Editorial: President Biden’s marijuana pardons – should Ohio follow suit?


A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Last week, using his constitutional pardoning power, President Joe Biden issued a blanket pardon for all those convicted of “simple marijuana possession” under federal law.

Biden noted, without further quantifying the matter, that the pardons would apply to “thousands … who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

But because most marijuana convictions are in the states, Biden further called on governors to follow his lead and pardon those previously convicted of simple possession. And, finally, he asked the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and the U.S. attorney general to “expeditiously” review marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification under federal law – the top classification meant for the most dangerous substances.

Among those applauding these moves was U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, who praised Biden in a statement “for listening and rejecting the all-or-nothing approach demanded by so many in his own party.” Joyce also urged Congress to incentivize state and local expungements Biden.

Among those not applauding Biden’s moves was Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who accused Biden of playing politics by issuing his Oct. 6 executive order on pardons just a little over one month before the Nov. 8 midterm elections. “This move maybe makes sense in individual cases,” Yost said, as quoted by cleveland.com’s Sabrina Eaton, “but Biden’s blanket pardon 34 days before an election is the most political, cynical abuse of the pardon power in history.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said through spokesman Dan Tierney that DeWine would not be issuing pardons as Biden had requested – first, Tierney said, because Tierney didn’t believe anyone was currently incarcerated in Ohio for simple possession, now a minor misdemeanor under Ohio law; and second, because the governor lacks the blanket pardon power presidents possess.

Yet, as new Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has repeatedly underscored as he seeks a way to wipe more than 4,000 marijuana convictions off the books in Cleveland, this isn’t necessarily about freeing people from prison, but rather freeing them from the harsh economic, employment and housing implications of those convictions.

So what does our Editorial Board Roundtable think about Biden’s actions, and DeWine’s inactions? Is this a political stunt by Biden, or an important affirmation of the need for marijuana expungements, one that DeWine should heed, as well?

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 15, 2022