U.S. Pardon Office Seeks Funding Boost to Handle Influx of Cannabis Clemency Cases

The U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney (PARDON) is requesting a significant budget increase to bolster its resources and staffing levels in anticipation of a continued surge in clemency applications, particularly those related to cannabis offenses. In its FY 2025 President’s Budget Submission, PARDON outlined a $12.6 million funding request to hire 40 additional positions, including 26 attorneys.

Historically, PARDON’s modest 11-person team was sufficient to process the roughly 600 annual applications received throughout the 1990s. However, the landscape has dramatically shifted, with the office fielding over 52,000 clemency petitions between FY 2012 and FY 2023 – a staggering increase attributed largely to President Biden’s recent proclamations pardoning simple marijuana possession convictions.

“PARDON expects to continue to receive incoming clemency cases, both pursuant to ordinary case submissions—which historically increase in proximity to presidential elections—and to the President’s October 2022 and December 2023 Proclamations pardoning individuals convicted of simple possession of marijuana,” the budget report stated.

Despite the influx, PARDON has issued only 184 pardon certificates since 2023 as of February 2024, underscoring the need for expedited processing. With additional resources, the office aims to achieve an ambitious 80% target of issuing marijuana pardon certificates to eligible recipients within 30 days of application receipt by FY 2024.

President Biden’s cannabis pardon initiatives have been met with both praise and calls for further action. While he initially announced pardons for federal marijuana prisoners in October 2022, the Department of Justice didn’t begin issuing certificates until September 2023 after conducting investigations and soliciting public comments.

In December 2023, Biden expanded the pardon scope to include cannabis offenses on federal property, pardoning 11 individuals with non-violent convictions. However, legislators continue urging the President to commute sentences for all federal marijuana prisoners, citing campaign pledges and bipartisan support for decriminalization.

As the federal government reevaluates its cannabis policies, the Office of the Pardon Attorney finds itself at the forefront of administering clemency and providing relief to those impacted by outdated laws. The requested funding boost aims to equip the office with the necessary resources to expedite this process and deliver on promises of criminal justice reform.


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