The latest round of pardons for American citizens with federal simple possession, attempted possession and use of marijuana by President Joe Biden have excluded serving military personnel again. First issued on Oct. 6, 2022, the presidential proclamation pardoned several federal simple cannabis possession offenses before another proclamation extended the number of pardoned offenses on Dec. 22, 2023.
While the first round of pardons was lauded as a major step toward fixing the damage caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, many advocates noted that the pardons were severely limited in scope and did not provide relief to many drug-war victims. The pardons only covered around several thousand people who had been convicted of federal cannabis possession offenses but left out military service members, noncitizens and people convicted of selling cannabis.
President Biden extended the proclamation last December to include individuals who were charged with cannabis possession offenses on federal properties. In a statement released shortly after the proclamation, Biden said that cannabis use and possession offenses have prevented people from accessing employment, housing and educational opportunities. He acknowledged that the government’s approach to marijuana had failed and said that it was time to “right these wrongs.” However, the president’s pardons excluded service members with simple-possession and marijuana-use offenses on their records.
An official from the White House confirmed that the December 2023 proclamation does not apply to offenses prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This essentially means that military service members who were charged with cannabis offenses in the past would not qualify for Biden’s latest round of pardons.
Although none of the 2022 and 2023 presidential proclamations resulted in any American being freed from federal prison, the removal of a federal cannabis conviction from an individual’s record can eliminate barriers to housing, education and reliable employment.
If the pardons also covered military service members with cannabis-related convictions, they could change their military discharge status and gain access to certain benefits. Unfortunately, while the president does have the unilateral right to change some punishments under the Manual for Courts-Martial, any major changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (USMJ) would have to go through Congress.
The UCMJ currently levies a maximum punishment of two years, forfeiture of pay and dishonorable discharge for marijuana possession.
Florida International University associate professor of law and military justice specialist Eric Carpenter says it isn’t surprising that Biden excluded military service members from this round of pardons. He explained that the use of drugs in the military tends to be more serious than recreational drug use by civilians’ because it can compromise good order and discipline.
The entire marijuana industry, including actors like Verano Holdings Corp. (CSE: VRNO) (OTCQX: VRNOF), will be hoping that ways can also be explored to grant serving military personnel the pardons that civilians can access under the evolving regulatory landscape of cannabis.
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