Ethics Observations On Biden’s Mass Marijuana Pardon

The pardon is irresponsible, cynical and unethical. It is also transparent: like the college loan forgiveness stunt (which is unconstitutional and a good bet to be knocked down), this is another sop to the Democratic base showing that Biden is keeping his promises made on the 2020 campaign trail. If it does serious damage to the Rule of Law, society, cultural ethics and developing young brains, hey, it’s worth it. Maybe getting more pot-heads to vote will keep the Democrats in power.

The pardon certainly doesn’t reflect any deeply-held convictions by the President, who doesn’t have such convictions. (This is a man who, please note, says he is a devout Roman Catholic who believes that the unborn are human lives from conception, but who champions abortion.) Biden opposed pot legalization until he became the Democratic nominee for president in 2020. Integrity? What’s integrity?

The pardon is guaranteed to lead to an increase in crime. The people with federal convictions for marijuana possession who Biden pardoned broke the law because they felt like it. They don’t respect the law, and Biden’s move endorses that disrespect. Such law-breakers will break other laws, and probably have.

When I was asked repeatedly as a college student on a pot-happy campus why I never accepted a joint, my answer was “Because its against the law.” When I was inevitably asked, “That’s all?” I replied, “That’s enough.” People who don’t believe that do not believe in the Rule of Law, at least not sufficiently to be trusted.

I spoke to a criminal lawyer over the weekend who scoffed at the idea that anyone went to federal prison for “simple” pot possession. “Those are all pleaded down charges for criminals who did other illegal things,” she told me. Biden’s statement that these are just otherwise innocent tokers is either a lie or utter ignorance. Come to think of it, the one pot case I had as public defender in D.C. fit into this category. My client had been arrested for shoplifting and had some pot on her in the post-arrest search. I got the prosecutor to let her plead to the pot possession charge and avoid jail time; she had to go to some classes and be on probation. I found out later that she had been arrested in another state for heroin possession.

Many are predicting that the pardoned potters will quickly move on to other drugs, like fentanyl. We shall no doubt see. Others are assuming that since Joe let the federal pot-users off the hook, many will feel more comfortable violating other recreational drug laws, since a slippery slope has been greased. That seems plausible too. The most likely result of Biden’sstrike at “over-incarceration” is that it will speed the move to eliminate federal anti-pot statutes. The states legalizing marijuana have already created young pot-users in excess of young smokers, and the long-term cognitive effects of this are still unknown, so we are now engaged in a mass, long term clinical experiment on our youth. Let’s hope for the best!

One benefit—I’m digging deep here—of this unethical pardon is that we can see the hypocrisy of many politicians more clearly than ever. For a particularly nauseating example, here is Vice President Harris iat the 2022 Texas Democratic Party Johnson-Jordan Reception over the weekend:

“And speaking of the system of justice, we are also changing — y’all might have heard that this week — the federal government’s approach to marijuana.  Because the bottom line there is: Nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed!”

She didn’t mention that the pardon will not affect the nearly 2,000 people who were convicted of marijuana possession while Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney, because those convictions were not made at the federal level. Harris was significantly more aggressive in prosecuting the crime than her predecessor. But nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed!

13 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On Biden’s Mass Marijuana Pardon

  1. I’m not in favor of pardons after the justice system has done it’s due diligence and judged a defendant in a court of law; I think a pardon is one person using the power of one political office to undermining the justice system. If there is injustice out there related to laws that people think are outdated that have been used to convict people then fine, they should be using the legislative system to change or abolish the outdated laws.

    As for the personal usage of drugs…

    Personally, I just don’t give a damn what kind of mind altering drugs people choose to put in their bodies as adults as long as they do it within existing laws, it’s their bodies, their choices, and their consequences. I also disagree with state funding of rehabilitation of drug addicts, again, it’s their choices and their consequences, let them pay for it themselves with absolutely no tax funded subsidies. If they want to be a drug addict passed out in the streets and homeless and starving, more power to them but the government better stop demanding the use of my tax dollars to fund anything related to the consequences of the choices made by drug & alcohol addicts. This is not society’s problem, this is individuals personal problems.

    Also; I’ve personally known a couple of handfuls of drug & alcohol addicts and my opinion on this has shifted over the years based on observation. No one should whine to me about these poor drug & alcohol addicts having a “disease”, because in my book that’s just a bull shit rationalization to avoid the social consequences of their choices, these people made their own choices to put whatever it was in their own body and it screwed up their minds and made them addict’s, sobeit, they get absolutely no sympathy from me for the consequences of their choices. If people play stupid games, they’re eligible to win stupid prizes. Yes I know people will disagree with me on this topic.

    • Steve W wrote, “This is not society’s problem, this is individuals personal problems.”

      It actually is society’s problem when you consider the secondary, tertiary effects/consequences of this behavior: crime, broken families, neglected and/or abused children, vagrancy, and a whole host of other problems. Legalizing it, though, won’t magically make it all go away.

      I sort of agree with your “it’s their bodies, their choice but don’t make me pay for it” position. However, I, for one, believe that pot in and of itself, is not an addictive drug on the levels of meth, crack, heroin, etc. It, though, a proverbial “gateway” to other, harder drugs. Here is why: in my teens, all authority figures declared that pot was evil. Well, my friend Joe routinely smoked it and didn’t run amuck lopping people’s heads off. In fact, he did really well is school, had a decent part-time job, and got on great with his parents and relatives. I suspect he is successful now. Yet, based on what authority figures declared, I thought, “well, if they are wrong about pot and Joe is Exhibit ‘A’ to the contrary, could they be wrong about other things?” One thing led to another, and lo and behold, pot wasn’t the evil they said it was.

      I had the foresight and, possible wisdom (if that is possible . . .) to look around and think, “I want no part of this.” Why? Because it didn’t expand my musical ability, it didn’t open doors of perception, or increase my awareness of the world around me. In fact, it did the exact opposite. So, I walked away from that crowd, put on Rush’s “Hemispheres” and tried to figure out what Alex Lifeson did on the “La Villa Strangiato” second, terrifying guitar solo – I could 98% of the song but that solo escapes me, even to today.

      A few years later, though, I found myself with that “cool crowd” and witnessed how the Jeff Spicoli potheads of my high school had moved on to more “exciting” experiences, including but not limited to the LSD, hash, mushrooms, qualudes (sp?), and the like. What was a bit of a stoner issue had morphed into something truly diabolical. I watched relatively reasonable people turn themselves into vegetables, declaring it was the greatest thing on the planet. Then, I read “A Brave New World” again in my early 20s (and again just a few years ago) and I realized that these “cooler people” were anesthetized to reality, spending more time thinking about getting stoned than producing.

      So, yeah, pot is just a stupid plant. Its societal impacts, though, are quite profound.

      jvb

    • I don’t know whether you can call it a “disease”, but an addict is definitely wired differently. An alcoholic will take one drink, and he won’t be able to stop himself. He’ll end up in a death spiral of destroying himself and those around him, which could very well end up killing him. I have a drink, and then I’m satisfied, and don’t feel like having a drink anymore. It’s not an act of superior will on my part. It isn’t an act of will at all. I’ve tried to explain that to an addict of my acquaintance, you’d think I had sprouted three heads. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it.

      • DaveL wrote, “I don’t know whether you can call it a “disease”, but an addict is definitely wired differently.”

        They are certainly wired differently after they become an addict and the compulsion takes over their lives and that goes with any addiction. Gambling addicts can be very destructive too. Trump is a media addict, it feeds his narcissism whether it’s good or bad media. There are people that are addicted to food, sex, trolling the internet, video games, exercise, shopping, etc. Some say there is a predisposition towards addiction and that it’s likely genetically inherited by some, the specific kind of addition is not inherited but the tendency towards addition is likely.

        Addiction is really weird.

  2. Where except in DC do federal police arrest people for simple possession? It seems to me that those in or had been in federal prisons for violating marijuana laws were there for much more serious violations such as trafficking drugs. I don’t think the feds do raids on college dorms or smell the odor during traffic stops.

  3. My view on pardons is that they are warranted in three circumstances:

    1. To correct a manifest miscarriage of justice where no other legal remedy is available.

    2. To provide relief from further punishment for your convicted of conduct which has been decriminalized or had its sentence reduced since their conviction.

    3. To reward those who have demonstrated genuine and sustained reform after having completed all or a large portion of their sentence.

    Biden’s blanket pardon for marijuana possession doesn’t fit these three categories. It’s more a nullification of Congress’ lawmaking authority than anything else.

  4. Just another thing to destroy our culture, economy, etc.

    He’s not even doing this… those controlling him are. The same ones who got Obama into office.

    I never believed this “conspiracy stuff” until I started paying more attention.

    Oh and the new “fat is where it’s at” push to accept and encourage obesity?

    WTF??? the good thing is people are waking up, cuz you can’t make this stuff up.

  5. “we are now engaged in a mass, long term clinical experiment on our youth”

    We’re actually engaged in several. “Gender affirming care” for gender dysmorphia (that in most cases appears to be a transitory social phenomenon), mRNA vaccines for a virus that poses less risk to them than influenza (that is useless against the virus for young people, but causes known serious heart issues for them), discipline-free school environments because rules and order are racist, prescription amphetamines for the wildly over-diagnosed condition of “ADHD”… The list goes on.

    It’s going to be difficult to even attempt to determine which effects are the result of which horrible experiment, since there aren’t many kids left who are unaffected by at least one of the many destructive policies we’re attacking them with, so we don’t even have a “control” group for comparison. Maybe Amish kids are the control group?

  6. I feel like there needs to be some soul searching done here.

    I could wax poetic about America’s disparate treatment of non-violent prime. Your over-legalization of nearly everything. Your rate of incarceration. I could make jokes about the exceptionalism of American criminality. About the home of the “Free and The Brave” being more like “Timid and the Cowed”. But we’ve done that before.

    I saw this story, and immediately wondered what your take on it was going to be. Because this is a confluence of two things you’ve expressed strong opinions on: The legalization of cannabis, and presidential pardons. I assumed that cognitive dissonance would play here, but I wasn’t sure if cannabis would drag pardons down, or if pardons would pick cannabis up. What I want to point out is how drastically you’ve shifted on pardons.

    In 2016, after Obama pardoned more people in a day than any president since Carter (when he pardoned 20,000 Vietnam Draft Dodgers), you wrote this:

    The pardon and clemency powers of the President are underused, and until the last two years, Obama underused them more than any modern President. Now, presumably in a last minute flurry to enhance his legacy, Obama has embraced these acts of mercy as one thing he can do that Donald Trump will not be able to reverse. Obama’s motives are irrelevant, however. The “quality of mercy is not strain’d…” and it also shouldn’t be criticized. We must assume that the beneficiaries of Obama’s mercy are deserving, and that there aren’t any Marc Rich-types in the group.

    Obama’s first “pardons for something that wasn’t a turkey” (your words) was in December 2010 a full two years after he became president, and you reminded us of that in 2018, after President Trump talked about pardoning Muhammad Ali and Democrats were criticizing Trumps relative lack of the pardon power and his “celebrity” pardons:

    I have seen several news sources, including the New York Times, contrast President Trump’s political “celebrity” pardons with President Obama’s pardons of less high profile Americans. Fake news. At this point in his administration, how many pardons do you think Obama had issued?

    None. Zero. Zilch. […]

    Trump just passed the 500 day mark. so he is a full half-year ahead of Obama in issuing pardons. Any pardons are better than no pardons. The mainstream media, however, intent upon bashing Trump and facts be damned, compared his pardons in less than two years in office with Obama’s in eight.”

    Two years after that, Democrats were criticizing Trump for his latest batch of pardons:

    As we have discussed here before, the position on Ethics Alarms is that the Presidents pardon power is vastly under-used, and since it is by definition an expression of the ethical values of mercy, compassion and forgiveness, I am reluctant to criticize however a President chooses to apply it. Progressives who have been arguing against confinement for non-violent offenses are ethically estopped from complaining about any of Trump’s pardons, since none of the m were convicted of violence crimes.

    Perhaps the most jarring you v. you comes from 2012:

    https://ethicsalarms.com/2012/05/18/when-unethical-approaches-evil-the-clarence-aaron-pardon-fiasco/

    I read about Clarence Aaron four days ago. It has bothered me ever since. The short version of this horror story is that a young man, outrageously sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for a drug offense despite being a first offender, was poised to receive a pardon from President Bush but did not, because the Pardon Attorney charged with job of presenting the case to the President inexplicably left out critical information that would have all but guaranteed his freedom.

    • None of which were mass pardons based on a single legal violation. The closest was Jimmy Carter’s pardon of all the draft-dodgers who fled to Canada. I opposed that too, and for the same reasons. The pardon power makes no distinctions, but I do. Using it to essentially cancel a law and validate law breaking is different from deciding that X individual deserves mercy.

      • The analogy is Biden’s student loan forgiveness, or the Gov. of Ill. who took all condemned prisoners off Death Row regardless of the facts of their cases. Mercy and canceling the law are distinct, no?

        • “Mercy and canceling the law are distinct, no?”

          Are they?

          I mean, technically…. Yes. Which is why America still has federal cannabis laws on the books that regulate it as the same level of heroin, in a class more serious than fentanyl, and your “cancelling the law” rhetoric is hyperbolic and fraught.

          But this… Whatever you want to call it. What’s the argument that it isn’t merciful?

          Look, up until very recently, Texas had a law on the books, section 43.21-23, Section 43.23 was an obscenity law that regulated the number of “obscene” implements a person could own, which explicitly included dildos and artificial vaginas and a limit of six. Now…. I don’t know why someone might need more than six dildos…. But I’m also pretty sure that they don’t deserve jail time for it. Probably. The courts agreed with me. The fifth circuit threw out a case in 2008 as unconstitutional and it was officially repealed in 2017. But it had been law for decades.

          If the governor of Texas has pardoned every soul thirsty for… freedom… who has been convicted under section 43.23, regardless of the number of dildos they had or what they were doing with them in the privacy of their own home with consenting adults… That hits me as a pretty merciful thing to do. And right.

          Seriously though… Look at it from the perspective of Kant, of universality: Are pardons ethical or not? Does that change if there are a lot of them? And what happened to not looking at motivation?

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