Heather Mac Donald on the marijuana myth
Here’s an excerpt from Mac Donald’s piece:
Biden announced that he was pardoning all individuals who have ever been federally convicted of marijuana possession. His reason for doing so, Biden said, was to “right” the racial “wrongs” that the criminal justice system has allegedly perpetrated. “While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” Biden said in a video.
This claim—equal marijuana use, unequal criminal justice treatment—has been a cornerstone of the Left’s war on cops for decades. It is routinely trotted out as Exhibit A in the Left’s narrative about racist policing; it got an added boost from Michele Alexander’s disastrously influential book, The New Jim Crow.
Mac Donald goes on to explain why the claim is probably bogus.
Aside from the rationale behind the pardons, what about the legality of pardoning a class of people in a blanket manner? Aren’t pardons usually issued on an individual basis? But although that’s usually the case, there have been some exceptions, described here:
Thomas Jefferson pardoned all those convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. And much more recently, in lieu of hoped-for legislation on criminal sentencing reform, Barack Obama used his clemency powers to shorten more than 1,700 individuals’ prison terms he thought harshly skewed by mandatory minimum sentences that punished nonviolent crimes.
On an even larger scale, both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson issued conditional proclamations of amnesty relating to the Civil War. Ford offered a trade to Vietnam War draft dodgers — clemency in exchange for two years of public service — but in 1977, his successor, Jimmy Carter granted a sweeping blanket pardon to all those who had evaded service in that war. That wiped the slate clean for as many as 210,000 men who had either been convicted or fled the country to avoid prosecution.
Apparently there are approximately 6,500 federal prisoners convicted of marijuana possession. But the pardon wouldn’t affect state offenders, nor would it affect non-citizen illegal aliens in federal prisons for marijuana possession, nor people imprisoned for federal possession laws but who were convicted of additional offenses. And in addition, it only would be retroactive; it doesn’t take the federal laws off the books, although I suppose it might have a chilling effect on future prosecutions.
However, there’s a catch to the whole thing. From Mac Donald’s essay:
Even though federal marijuana possession convictions are a proxy for serious dealing, there is at present no one even serving time in federal prison for marijuana possession. In 2017, only 92 people were sentenced on federal marijuana possession charges, out of nearly 20,000 drug convictions, reports the New York Times. The Biden marijuana initiative is intended to remind the Democratic base that the party remains committed to the systemic racism narrative, recent gestures about “refunding the police” notwithstanding.
I’m assuming Mac Donald actually means, “there is at present no one even serving time in federal prison solely for marijuana possession.” If so, it seems to me that not only would this pardon not apply to as many as 6,500 people, it wouldn’t apply to anyone.
And in fact, lo and behold, that appears to be the case. It doesn’t apply to anyone [emphasis mine]:
“For example, if you were convicted of possessing marijuana and cocaine in a single offense, you do not qualify for pardon under the terms of President Biden’s proclamation,” the Justice Department explained. “If you were convicted of one count of simple possession of marijuana and a second count of possession of cocaine, President Biden’s proclamation applies only to the simple possession of marijuana count, not the possession of cocaine count.”
The move also is not expected to remove any individuals from prison.
The administration official speaking to reporters on Thursday said that “there are no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana.”
So we can conclude that the whole announcement is a mere propaganda ploy to play to the ignorant, with no effect whatsoever in the real world on anyone serving time in prison.
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