Udi Ofer, a Princeton University professor and former deputy national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said simple possession of marijuana is a crime “almost entirely prosecuted by the states.” The federal government tends to prosecute marijuana trafficking crimes, he said.
Only 92 people were sentenced on federal marijuana possession charges in 2017, out of nearly 20,000 drug convictions, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
“This is an important political statement, it’s an important value statement, it’s progress, but this is a drop in the ocean of injustice,” Mr. Ofer said.
Marijuana is already fully legal in about 20 states, and some other states have relaxed criminal penalties, according to DISA, a large drug-testing company that tracks state laws regarding marijuana. It remains fully illegal in a handful of states. The federal government will stop charging anyone with simple possession starting on Thursday, officials said.
Mr. Biden’s announcement could give Democrats a boost in the upcoming midterm elections, especially among young people, liberals and minority communities.
In July, a half-dozen of the Senate’s most liberal senators wrote Mr. Biden a letter urging him to take the steps he announced on Thursday.
“The administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” wrote the group of senators, including his onetime rivals, Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts.