Under federal law, possession of marijuana is still illegal, despite its legalization in some states for medical or recreational use. The Controlled Substances Act categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. DAngeloLegal Blog
21 U.S.C. § 844 (Penalties for simple possession) states that it is illegal for anyone to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance, including marijuana. Those who violate this provision by possessing marijuana can face imprisonment for up to one year and a minimum fine of $1,000.
However, recent developments suggest a potential shift in federal policy regarding marijuana possession offenses. On October 6, 2022, President Biden issued a “full, complete, and unconditional pardon” to all current U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who were convicted of or committed “the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, as currently codified at 21 U.S.C. § 844.” This action provides relief to individuals who have been burdened by the consequences of a marijuana possession conviction, including difficulties in finding employment, housing, and other basic needs.
In addition to the pardon, the President has also requested an expedited review of how marijuana is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. The review will be conducted by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General. This could potentially lead to changes in federal marijuana policy and a reclassification of marijuana to a lower schedule, which would make it easier to study and potentially legalize.
Recent legislative proposals have also aimed to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedules, eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, and expunge prior marijuana convictions. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2020, includes provisions for expungement of federal marijuana offenses and incentives for states to do the same.
Overall, while marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law, recent actions by the President and legislative proposals signal a potential shift in federal policy regarding marijuana offenses. Individuals who have been affected by a marijuana possession conviction should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if they are eligible for relief under the recent pardon or other available options for post-conviction relief.