For the past twenty years, the decriminalization of cannabis has become an important issue for the left of the Democratic Party in the United States. Critics are multiplying against the “war on drugs”, accused of having been the source of strong discrimination against ethnic minorities, overrepresented in American prisons. Formerly a supporter of firmness, Joe Biden has changed sides.
A limited but symbolic gesture
By announcing Thursday the pardon of federal sentences for possession of cannabis, Joe Biden took note of the changes that have taken place in American society. Today, more than nine out of ten Americans support some form of decriminalization. “No one should be imprisoned for simply consuming or possessing cannabis”said the head of state.
The White House’s decision should not result in releases. And for good reason: according to official data, no inmate is currently in a federal prison solely for possession of cannabis. This is not the case in the prisons dependent on the justice of each State.
On the other hand, this pardon will concern several thousand former convicts, who will see their criminal records cleared. Which can be important when looking for a job or an apartment.
Minorities, first concerned
This announcement comes a month before the mid-term legislative elections which promise to be very perilous for the Democratic Party. Is Joe Biden counting on this gesture to remobilize this electorate, in particular the youngest, who usually shun the ballot boxes during the midterms?
It is true that the question of the penalties associated with the possession and consumption of cannabis has agitated the American left since the beginning of the century. In 2010, the book The New Jim Crow by lawyer Michelle Alexander, who drew a parallel between segregation and the “war on drugs”, had received wide coverage.
Since then, the issue has played an important role in national, but even more local, political life. Especially in New York, where the police are accused of controlling blacks and Latinos much more, who were sent to prison if cannabis was found on them, even for their own consumption.
States legalize, Washington dithers
This announcement by Joe Biden comes as legalization gains ground in the federated states. Nineteen of the 50 US states, as well as the capital Washington, have already legalized the use of cannabis for recreational purposes for adults. In addition, medical marijuana is legal in nearly 40 states, including conservative regions (West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, etc.).
In November, referendums on legalization will be held in five states – Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma. They should confirm a movement initiated in 1996 by California (therapeutic), then two decades later by Colorado (recreational).
On the other hand, Washington resists this movement: the federal State still considers cannabis to be a hard drug, in the same way as heroin, responsible for numerous overdoses.