Nearly half a year after President Joe Biden’s historic announcement that he would pardon federal cannabis possession convictions, the Department of Justice is stepping closer toward providing eligible individuals with certificates.
On Friday, the Department announced that the online application went live. The announcement links to the “Application for Certificate of Pardon for Simple Marijuana Offense,” and to a Q&A page.
Biden’s proclamation, issued on October 6, 2022, required the Pardon Attorney to “develop and announce application procedures” in order to “administer and effectuate the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible applicants …. as soon as reasonably practicable.”
Among the questions on the application is one that requires proof that the applicant is a U.S. citizen or “lawful permanent resident.”
Language around “immigration status” contributed to “delays” in the rollout of the application, according to a letter written by Pardon Attorney Elizabeth G. Oyer to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seeking expedited approval of the application form.
“While the initial emergency approval enabled our office to prepare the form for public use within a short time frame, unforeseen delays and concerns regarding the verification of the applicants’ immigration status arose. The concerns have since been addressed with the amended form,” she wrote.
That Biden’s October announcement did not apply to undocumented immigrants immediately drew criticism from immigration and advocacy groups, including the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.
“While we are glad to see President Biden taking concrete steps to address some of these consequences, we are grimly disappointed that it does not extend to immigrants who were undocumented and urge him to ensure that all immigrants are included in the pardon process,” Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project, said in a statement in October.
At the time of Biden’s announcement, the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimated that at least 6,000 people would be eligible for a pardon. However, the Office of the Pardon Attorney estimates that “at least 20,000 applicants may apply,” according to a Federal Register notice about the form posted on Friday. Eventually, the Office of the Pardon Attorney might “provide statistical analysis of the demographics of pardon recipients and applicants.”
While Biden’s pardons took effect in October, Oyer noted in her letter to the OMB that “for practical purposes, no one who has received a pardon has the corresponding proof that the pardon applies to them. Proof of pardon is necessary to record the fact of pardon on each recipient’s criminal record and to restore any civil disabilities that may be attendant to the conviction, such as restriction from public housing, voting rights, or eligibility for student loans.”
Earlier this week, Senator Cory Booker pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland for an update on another component of Biden’s October announcement, which is a review of how cannabis is scheduled.
“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” Biden said at the time, adding that he asked Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Garland “to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
Garland’s response was, in short: we’re working on it.
Editor’s note: this story, originally published on March 2, has been updated to reflect that the application form went live.