President Joe Biden’s call to pardon all offenses for marijuana possession at the state and federal level was met with skepticism by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who accused the administration of buying votes while bypassing Congress.
“Whether it’s transferring student loan debts to millions of other taxpayers or ignoring federal law enforcement laws, the president continues to disregard the checks and balances in our system,” Cox said in a statement Thursday night.
“If you want to see a change in our laws, do the hard work that it takes to enact that change with Congress. But taking an executive action like this only weeks before an election is nothing more than a desperate attempt to win votes,” he said.
Biden’s plan takes a three-pronged approach:
- Pardoning all offenses for marijuana possession at the federal level, which the president says will “help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
- Directing U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law — it’s currently listed as Schedule I in the Controlled Substance Act, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and is ranked higher than fentanyl and methamphetamine.
- Asking all governors to pardon state-level marijuana possession charges.
The last item is where it gets complicated in Utah. State law does not allow the governor to pardon anyone — instead, it falls to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
“It would be improper” to comment on “potential federal action related to federal criminal penalties for marijuana use,” the board explained in a statement to the Deseret News.
“Absent extraordinary circumstances, a pardon application may not be accepted or considered by the Board until a minimum of five years have passed since a sentence has expired or terminated,” the board said.
Utah law also requires a full hearing before the board.
The board says anyone wishing to seek a pardon should follow the current process outlined by the state.
“Without a request from an individual offender, the Board cannot grant a pardon,” the statement reads.
In Salt Lake County, District Attorney Sim Gill says his office still prosecutes cases of marijuana possession, where offenders are often slapped with misdemeanors.
“There is an ongoing misdemeanor prosecution that occurs because it’s still illegal in the state of Utah,” Gill told KSL NewsRadio. “So, there is some criminal enforcement that does occur across the state by prosecutors.”
Biden’s announcement was welcome news for advocates of criminal justice reform, who for years have pointed to marijuana convictions as an example of overzealous prosecutors.
“This means thousands of people now face fewer barriers to housing, employment, education and stability,” the ACLU said on Twitter.