“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
Biden Pardons Marijuana Offenses, Calls For Review Of Federal Law
President Joe Biden on Thursday granted a pardon to all people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law, in what amounts to the most extensive White House action taken to date on U.S. drug policy.
The president also urged governors to take similar action for state offenses of civil possession of marijuana. In addition, he called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning it’s deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Heroin and LSD are other Schedule I drugs.
The president added that regulations that limit the trafficking, marketing and sales to minors shouldn’t change but that states should follow the administration’s lead because the vast majority of people incarcerated for marijuana possession in the U.S. are convicted under state or local laws.
“The President has been clear that marijuana laws are not working,” said a senior administration official. “The president has been considering his options and he is now taking executive action.”
The move, pushed for by advocates for months, brings marijuana policy to the fore just weeks before the midterm elections, underscoring just how much the politics of the issue have changed in a short period of time. Polling consistently shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization. But despite the popularity of legalization, fewer than one in five 2022 primary candidates mentioned cannabis reform on their website or on social media, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.
The practical impact, at least immediately, may be limited. Most people in federal prison for cannabis offenses are not in prison for minor, nonviolent offenses — so the number of individuals affected by this order will be in the thousands, according to the White House.
The move, nevertheless, is remarkable for Biden, a 79-year-old president who had written some of the tough-on-crime drug laws that advocates note led to current incarceration rates. Biden was the only Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 who did not support federal descheduling, which would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level. The administration had also said Biden wants to reschedule cannabis to a Schedule II drug — which would make it easier to study — legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize minor possession. All of these positions legally conflicted with each other.
Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 states have legal adult-use marijuana. Five states are voting on recreational cannabis legalization in the 2022 midterms: Missouri, Arkansas, North and South Dakota, and Maryland.
Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to deschedule cannabis and expunge some federal records. However, that bill does not currently have the votes in the Senate to pass. The House has twice passed legislation in recent years that would eliminate federal marijuana penalties, but with little Republican support. In addition, a House bill, introduced by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) would set aside grant funding for states that want to expunge cannabis-related records.
“Members of Congress have been working on this issue with one significant bill passing the House. That effort has stalled and we are almost at the end of this Congress,” a senior administration official said.
Biden’s announcement on Thursday appeared to catch much of Washington by surprise, with Democratic congressional aides telling POLITICO the rollout was not closely coordinated with lawmakers ahead of time.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has brought descheduling up with the administration in the past and did receive a call from the White House prior to the announcement. Fellow co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) also received a call ahead of the announcement.
In addition, Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman got advance notice from the White House that Biden was going to pardon marijuana offenses and review how it’s scheduled, a person familiar with the conversation said. The Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, long a proponent of legalizing weed, talked with Biden for 20 minutes last month in Pittsburgh, during which Fetterman urged him to deschedule marijuana.
The review process Biden has outlined through HHS and the DOJ won’t necessarily result in the descheduling of cannabis. It could simply move marijuana to a lower category on the Controlled Substances Act — something that advocates have pointed out could complicate medical and recreational marijuana programs in already-legal states.
“Keeping marijuana on the federal drug schedule will mean people will continue to face criminal charges for marijuana,” the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the legalization of all drugs, said in a statement. “It also means that research will continue to be inhibited and state-level markets will be at odds with federal law.”
Even Biden-allied lawmakers encouraged him to go further. “A review by HHS of how cannabis is scheduled is welcome, but those of us who have been advocating for reform, we already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement on Thursday.
In an apparent nod to that vein of criticism, DOJ promised swift action on the executive order.
“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense,” the department said in a statement. “In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.”
There have long been big racial disparities in enforcement of marijuana laws. Black people are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite both groups using the drug at roughly equal rates, according to a 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The legal cannabis industry is projected to hit $32 billion in sales this year, according to New Frontier Data, with revenues expected to reach $63 billion by 2028.
Biden Administration Cancels More Than $66B In Student Loan Debt
The U.S. Department of Education has already canceled over $66 billion in education debt despite President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan’s legal challenges.
Two million-plus borrowers, including those defrauded and those who work in the public sector, have benefited from that relief over the last few years, CNBC News reported.
“I feel like this administration has done more for borrowers in a short period of time than any other, especially for the most vulnerable borrowers such as the disabled and victims of fraud,” said Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institue of Student Loan Advisors said.
Still, supporters of Biden’s plans are concerned with the administration’s plan to resume soon federal student loan payments, which have been suspended since March 2020. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 1 in 4 student loan borrowers were in default or behind on payments.
Here’s a breakdown of the debt relief already granted — and how to know if you qualify.
One debt relief program already granted it– the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program that allows certain nonprofit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after ten years or 120 payments.
The Education Department announced earlier this month that it had approved $42 billion in loan cancellations under the program for more than 615,000 borrowers since October 2021.
Borrowers can see if their employment qualifies by filling out the employer certification form.
The Biden administration has focused on canceling the student debt of borrowers who say their colleges misled them. Over the last few years, around 1 million people have had their debt relieved through the borrower defense loan discharge, totaling $13.3 billion.
A borrower may qualify for this debt relief if their college engaged in misconduct, such as providing false or misleading information about their program or job placement rates.
If a borrower attended one of these colleges and applied for a borrower defense loan discharge on or before June 22, 2022, they should be entitled to automatic relief, even if their application was previously denied.
Eligible borrowers will likely get the cancellation no later than Jan. 28, 2024.
Another 425,000 federal student loan borrowers had their debt forgiven under President Joe Biden’s Total and Permanent Disability Discharge, for a total of $9.1 billion.
The relief provision is for borrowers with a physical or mental disability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to work.
Still, millions of Americans are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt per borrower.
But if a borrower has already received debt cancellation under one of the above programs and has no remaining debt,
the president’s plan won’t affect them.
But in the meantime, dozens of other forgiveness options are available for state and federal loans.
Tunisia’s President Saied urged to resign after lowest turnout ever
The Tunisian electoral authority announced on Sunday that turnout for Saturday’s parliamentary elections stood at only 8,8%.
Despite the low turnout, the lowest in any poll since the revolution in 2011, the president of the electoral authority described the process as clean due to the lack political financingand vote buying.
“From my point of view the reason is clear. It is a change in the system of polling and the lack of political funding for electoral campaigns. Because for the first time, and we say it taking our responsibilities, for the first time there have been clean elections and a clean electoral campaign, free from political funding that was the reason behind buying votes – let us be clear and frank – so for the first time the Tunisian elections were pure”, said Farouk Bouasker, president of Tunisia’s ISIE electoral commission.
Opposition groups boycotted the election, describing it as part of a “coup” against democracy.
The main opposition alliance called on the president to bring all political forces together for consultations.
“It (electoral commission, Ed.) says the turnout is 8.8%. We say it is an earthquake of 8.8 on the Richter scale. We ask those who run (the country) illegally and without any legitimacy to leave”, demanded National Salvation Front leader, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi.
The election took place almost a year and a half after Saied deployed military vehicles to suspend parliament, following months of political deadlock.
In July, President Saied used a referendum to push through a new constitution virtually stripping parliament of any real power.
Preliminary results are expected Monday.
US President Joe Biden turns 80 Today: New Generation’ of Democratic Leaders Takes Control in Congress
President Joe Biden will celebrate his 80th birthday on Sunday, marking the first time a sitting president has reached that milestone while in office and fueling speculation about how his advancing age will affect his political future.
Biden — who was the oldest person to assume the presidency in January 2021, just 61 days after his 78th birthday — has said he intends to make another White House bid, even as his age-adjacent peers, including 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have made the decision to step away from leadership in order to make way for a younger generation.
“My intention is that I will run again. But I’m a great respecter of fate and this is ultimately a family decision. I think everybody wants me to run but we’re going to have discussions about it. And I don’t feel any hurry one way or the other to make that judgment.” he said last week, after helming what many say is the most successful midterm election for a sitting president’s party in decades, though noting that those results would not have an impact on his decision to run again.
Biden is the oldest person to serve as commander in chief in the nation’s history. Should he seek reelection in 2024 and win, the president would be 86 by the end of his second term. He has said he’ll talk over his future with his wife and the rest of his family over the holidays.
Biden has said he is hoping that he and his wife “get a little time to actually sneak away for a week around between Christmas and Thanksgiving” and that his decision to run for reelection will likely “be early next year we make that judgment.”
During a White House briefing with reporters on Friday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the first lady would be having a brunch for Biden on Sunday for his birthday, following his granddaughter Naomi’s wedding at the White House the previous day.
“Usually, they celebrate on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving because everyone is going to the family is going to be here this weekend, he will have an opportunity to celebrate his birthday he wanted on his actual day,” she said.
Biden’s birthday comes right as national conversation is focused on the age of those at the top of Democratic leadership, just days after Pelosi announced that she would step down from leadership as House Democrats transition into the minority for the next Congress.
“The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” she said during her farewell speech on the House floor.
In a lengthy statement after her announcement, Biden noted his long history with Pelosi.
“I’ve seen her in action during my career as Senator, Vice President, and now as President,” he said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 82, also announced they would step aside from their leadership posts shortly after Pelosi’s declaration.
New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, officially declared his bid for Democratic leader on Friday. Reps. Katherine Clark, 59, will vie for minority whip and Pete Aguilar, 43, is bidding to be caucus chair, ushering in a generational shift in House Democrats’ top spots.
On the future of the Democratic Party, Pelosi told reporters, “That’s up to them, I want it to be whatever they want it to be.”
Pelosi has maintained support for Biden throughout months of questions about his political future, particularly another run for the White House.
When asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” last Sunday, Pelosi said she thinks Biden should run again.
“Yes, I do. I mean President Biden has been a great president for our country. He has accomplished so much,” she said. “He has been a great president, and he has a great record to run on.”
Biden, known in public life for his long history of personal tragedy, has maintained that he is a “respecter of fate” regarding his decision to move forward as standard-bearer for his party and the nation.
“Fate has intervened in my life many many times. If I’m in the health I’m in now — from a good health. And, in fact, I would run again,” he said during a sit down interview at the White House with ABC News’ David Muir late last year.
But he’s faced a good deal of opposition–from both Democrats and Republicans– surrounding his seemingly likely decision to move forward for reelection.
One ABC News/Washington Post pollconducted in late September found that 56% of Democrats and independents that tend to vote for Democrats said they wanted “someone other than Biden” to run in the next presidential election.
A number of Democrats have said they wish Biden would step aside for a “new generation of leadership” echoing what Pelosi noted in her departure from control.
During the campaign cycle, Democrats such as Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, have openly suggested he shouldn’t run for another term.
Biden’s health and mental acuity is sure to be subject to intense scrutiny if he were to announce his 2024 bid for the White House, especially from Republicans who have long ridiculed his infamous gaffes during speeches, among other motor skill missteps.
In September, Biden asked about the whereabouts of Indiana GOP congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who was killed in a car crash earlier this year, during a White House conference.
The only candidate in the running so far for the 2024 presidential contest is 76-year-old former President Donald Trump, who launched his third White House campaign Tuesday evening. Trump was the second-oldest person to assume the presidency, at 70 years old.
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