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Defense Lawyers Group Urges Biden to Release Prisoners Serving Marijuana Sentences

NACDL, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has written a letter to the White House urging President Joseph Biden and his administration to decriminalize cannabis and also commute all sentences of individuals in prison over federal cannabis convictions. In their letter, the association says it is advocating for compassionate release, second chances and the immediate commuting of sentences of those having convictions for nonviolent cannabis offenses.

The letter written by NACDL was sent on the same day last week when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is reported to have made a decision to reclassify marijuana to Schedule III from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The letter enumerates how many people continue to languish in federal correctional facilities for actions that have since been legalized in many states. Such incarceration imposes untold irreparable harms on families and individuals, the letter adds.

The group then highlights four examples of incarcerated individuals that they say deserve clemency and a second chance. These spotlighted individuals have sentences spanning several decades and yet the marijuana crimes they were convicted for didn’t involve any violence. The letter then pleads for the president to grant those four, as well as another set of 26 individuals, clemency as their clemency petitions have been awaiting the president’s attention and decision.

Michael Heiskell, NACDL president, revealed in a press release that it was commendable that the administration was reclassifying marijuana. However, he added that this step needed to be quickly followed by Congressional action legalizing marijuana and passing regulations under which retroactive sentence relief can be granted to incarcerated people serving federal cannabis crime sentences.

It should be remembered that President Biden has issued mass pardons targeting people in jail for possessing marijuana. However, his proclamations excluded those in jail for distributing or cultivating marijuana.

Toward the end of April, Biden also granted more than 12 people presidential clemency for drug-related offenses that were nonviolent. However, none of those released people had a conviction connected to marijuana.

The president and vice president have been actively promoting the actions taken to free people convicted for nonviolent cannabis offenses. For example, Kamala Harris stated during an event at the White House last month that no one should be jailed for smoking marijuana. Additionally, both Biden and Harris spoke at 4:20 p.m. touting their actions to reform marijuana policy. This was on the marijuana holiday (4/20) celebrated every April 20, 2024.

It looks like the Biden administration realizes how crucial federal cannabis policy may be during this election cycle and is doing everything to position itself positively before voters. Industry actors such as Tilray Brands Inc. (NASDAQ: TLRY) (TSX: TLRY) hope that the recent interest shown by top federal leaders translates into concrete reforms, so that the industry can continue to grow unhindered by the regulatory hurdles which currently exist.

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