As part of his announcement for mass federal marijuana pardons, President Joe Biden also urged states to offer relief to those with low-level cannabis convictions. Governors and gubernatorial candidates across the country have since reacted in various ways, with some committing to taking formal action while others indicated they had no intention of doing so.
The president’s mass federal pardon for marijuana possession offenses is a historic break from the federal government’s prohibitionist stance, but it is estimated that it will only offer relief to 6,500 people. By far, the majority of marijuana convictions occur through state legal systems.
Here’s a roundup of how governors and gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming elections reacted to Biden’s plea for cannabis pardons.
A spokesperson for Gov. Kay Iver (R) said it was not in the governor’s power to issue pardons, as each case must be reviewed individually by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) agrees cases should be reviewed on merit, with preference given to those who have a record of law-abiding conduct.
The gubernatorial candidate for the Democrats, Chris Jones, committed to expunging the records of those arrested for low-level cannabis offenses but said that “governors should not be made to do this wholesale.”
Gov. Jared Polis touted his record of pardoning Coloradans with past cannabis convictions and welcomed Biden’s announcement.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) congratulated the Biden administration and noted that his state’s bill to legalize marijuana includes provisions to automatically clear certain cannabis-related convictions from criminal records.
Gubernatorial nominee for the Democrats, Stacey Abrams, said she would seek to decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge prior records for such offenses as governor.
Current Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has not publicly commented on Biden’s announcement.
The Republican nominee for governor, Duke Aiona, said he would not issue pardons as a ‘blanket’ promise but would ensure individual cases are assessed on merit.
His rival for the governorship, Lt. Gov. Josh Green (D), pledged to review misdemeanor cannabis possession cases.
Gov. Brad Little (R ) described Biden’s call for pardons “pointless,” arguing that only Idaho’s Commission of Pardons and Paroles can issue these.
His Democratic challenger for the governorship, Stephen Heidt, said he would support pardons for those convicted of cannabis possession.
Gov. JB Prtizker responded by highlighting that nearly 800,000 people in Illinois have been pardoned or had their record expunged for low-level cannabis convictions.
A spokesperson for Gov. Laura Kelly said the governor’s priority is on legalizing medical marijuana but that she will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Andy Beshear said “no one should be in jail simply because of possession of marijuana” but that the governor’s office doesn’t currently have plans to issue state-level pardons for cannabis possession convictions.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) agreed with Biden’s move but laments that he does not have the authority to take such action at the state level. Instead, individuals seeking criminal record relief for a low-level cannabis conviction must apply to the Board of Pardons.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore described Biden’s announcement as “overdue” and said he would follow the federal government’s lead. His Republican counterpart, Gov. Larry Hogan, has not commented publicly.
Gov. Charlie Baker (R) pointed to his administration’s record on facilitating relief for those with prior cannabis convictions, but his potential GOP successor, Geoff Diehl, described Biden’s move as “the latest in a series of outrageous moves by President Biden to eliminate consequences for wrongful actions as he panders for votes for his party in the midterm election.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said she had already acted to facilitate expungements for low-level cannabis offenses.
Gov. Tim Walz supports Biden’s call but a spokesperson noted that he is unable to take unilateral action since pardons require a unanimous vote by the Board of Pardons.
Gov. Mike Parson (R ) is against ‘blanket’ pardons for cannabis possession convictions, but voters in Missouri will have the chance in November to vote for a marijuana legalization ballot measure that would facilitate expungements for such offenses.
A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) said there are no plans to adopt mass clemency for prior low-level cannabis convictions.
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R ) described Biden as “misinformed” and “ill-advised” on marijuana policy following his announcement.
Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said his administration has led the way on streamlining the pardon process for those with low-level cannabis convictions, with more than 15,000 in the state having now received clemency.
A spokesperson for Gov. Chris Sununu (R ) said New Hampshire’s statute does not provide for the governor to issue pardons without additional legislative oversight, although they added that Sununu and the state Department of Justice would review the president’s call.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham noted the provisions for expungements that are included in the marijuana legalization bill she signed into law. She added that the state has so far identified more than 155,000 marijuana charges that could qualify for expungement.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said state attorneys are currently reviewing the pardon process for cannabis offenses.
A spokesperson for Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said he does not plan to follow Biden’s call for state-level action on cannabis pardons.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Nan Wheatley, however, said she would take steps to expunge the criminal records of those with low-level cannabis convictions.
Pennsylvania recently had a one-month expedited pardon program for cannabis offenses which saw 3,500 applications.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman strongly supports cannabis clemency but his GOP opposition, Dr. Oz, is against marijuana reforms.
Gov. Dan McKee (D) came out in support of Biden’s announcement and highlighted his state’s new marijuana legalization law that will automatically expunge prior low-level cannabis possession convictions by July 1, 2024.
A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he is “not considering” pardons for those with prior marijuana possession convictions.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R ) is in favor of cannabis decriminalization but a spokesperson for his administration dismissed Biden’s call for state-level action.
“Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” they said.
The Democratic gubernatorial nominee Beto O’Rourke made clear he would expunge the records of those arrested for cannabis possession.
Gov. Spencer Cox (R ) said he does not have the authority to issue pardons unilaterally, and added that he disagrees with the president’s “entire approach.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said he “is reviewing President Biden’s executive action.”
Gov. Tony Evers has granted pardons to several dozen individuals for marijuana possession offenses but a spokesperson for the governor didn’t answer a question on whether he would support blanket clemency for such convictions.