Thousands of Americans who recently received a presidential pardon for federal cannabis crimes will soon be able to receive official proof of their crimes being forgiven.
After years of empty promises, President Biden finally granted a mass pardon to thousands of federal cannabis prisoners this October. The pardon issued immediate clemency to nearly 6,500 people who had been convicted on minor federal cannabis possession charges. But those who received the pardons received no official proof that their crimes had been forgiven.
At a recent panel discussion held at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, US Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer said that the US Department of Justice was working to resolve this problem. Oyer told the panel that the DOJ was preparing to issue official certificates proving that an individual has actually received a pardon for their crime. To apply for a certificate, applicants will be able to complete a short online form or mail in a simple paper application.
“The final application, which is very far along in the process now, is likely going to be a one-pager which requires inclusion of some basic personal information—information about the date and court of conviction, there’ll be an attestation requiring the applicant to state that the information provided is truthful—and that’s pretty much it,” Oyer said, according to Marijuana Moment. She promised that these applications would be available “very soon” and that “it will take no more than 10 minutes for most people to complete.”
The certificates are particularly important because these cannabis crimes were pardoned, not expunged. A federally pardoned prisoner can be released from jail, or have their right to vote restored, but the conviction remains visible on their criminal record. An expungement, on the other hand, will completely clear a criminal record. So for anyone who was just pardoned, their former offense will still show up on their records, which will potentially allow employers or landlords to discriminate against them even though their crimes have been forgiven.
“You don’t need a certificate for a pardon to be effective—but individuals may want to obtain a certificate in order to have that proof in hand that they’ve been pardoned,” Oyer explained. “My guess is that many individuals are going to find that they don’t actually need a certificate, but other individuals may find that they run into obstacles and that having a certificate is helpful in achieving the full benefits of the pardons so that they can show someone a piece of paper saying, ‘yes, I had that conviction, but it’s been pardoned by the president.'”
The new pardon certificate plan is a step in the right direction, but it does little to address the shortcomings of Biden's clemency plan. Everyone who received the pardon had already served their sentence in full, so the pardon did not free even one single person from jail. People convicted of growing, selling, or distributing weed were excluded from the pardon, and non-US citizens were also deemed ineligible.
Oyer did note that some people who were excluded from the mass pardon still have a shot at presidential clemency, though. Notably, non-citizens who were automatically blocked from receiving the mass pardon can still submit individual applications for a personal pardon. The president does have the authority to pardon people convicted of selling or trafficking weed, as well, and former presidents have issued pardons for these crimes.
“Any individual is always able to apply for a pardon under our traditional process for granting pardons—President Biden’s proclamation was in addition to the traditional process for considering pardons— and one thing that we consider in every case where an individual is seeking a pardon is individualized need for that type of relief,” Oyer explained, according to Marijuana Moment.
“So if an individual has a compelling need for a pardon in order to avoid a specific collateral consequence, such as potential removal from the United States or inability to reenter the country, then that is absolutely something that would be considered by the office on an individualized basis in connection with a pardon application,” she added.