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Advocates hope Biden's cannabis decision improves racial equity

According to the ACLU, in 2018, Black people were arrested almost four times as much as Whites for marijuana-related offenses.

WASHINGTON — As President Joseph Biden announced plans to pardon all people federal convicted of simple possession of marijuana, cannabis advocates considered the implications the decision would have on equity.

The White House says the President’s decision will impact at least 6,500 people, across America, who have been convicted on federal charges for simple possession. While thousands of additional people, once convicted by law according to D.C. code, will be affected too

The policing of cannabis has been a controversial topic over the years as people of color are typically arrested more than white people for marijuana-related charges in the United States.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in 2018, Black people were 3.4 times as likely as white people to be arrested for a marijuana-related charge in Virginia. In Maryland, the number was 2.1 times.

Toi Hutchinson serves as the President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

She said she hopes Biden’s decision will right some wrongs.

"Every step and acknowledgment by the President of the United States that nobody should be in jail, nobody should be in prison over something that is legal in the majority of our states right now, that is welcome news,” she said.

However, Hutchinson admits there is still progress to be made on the issue of cannabis in the country.

“It's more than diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she said. “It's more than just our faces there. It is centering the people who are harmed the most by this. And, that means paying attention to what the barriers of access are to get into this industry.”

D.C. marijuana activist Adam Eidinger helped spearhead Initiative 71, which allowed people to possess marijuana in the District.

He said he was pleased to see the President take action on the issue. However, he agreed that more must be done to address the issue.

For starters, Eidinger said he would like cannabis manufacturers, distributors, and people charged with the intention to distribute to be pardoned too.

"There's all these crimes above simple possession,” he said. “Almost no one gets charged with it. They usually get charged with more serious crimes like intent to distribute."

Eidinger added the American public should be careful about congratulating Biden or the Democrats until more is done.

“Yes, we should reward the President and the Democrats if they end the drug war and they bring the cannabis prisoners home, but they aren’t doing that with this,” he said. “This is going to affect a very small group of people.”

If marijuana is de-scheduled, as the President proposed it would also mean that the District could potentially regulate the sale of marijuana within its borders. Annually, the so-called “Harris Rider” has stopped D.C. from participating in such activity.

WUSA9 also reached out to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to see what they had to say about the President’s order. Both said they are reviewing his plan.

The President urged states to follow his lead on the issue of people who were convicted in state courts.

However, it is still unclear what could change in the mid-Atlantic as Virginia adults can already possess up to one ounce of marijuana and Maryland plans to vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana next month.

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