Less than a day after President Joe Biden announced his administration was pardoning all Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana, Democratic Miami Gardens Sen. Shervin Jones is asking Florida’s chief executive to do the same.
On Friday, Jones called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to extend “a similar policy” for all Florida citizens with prior convictions of simple possession of marijuana — having a small quantity of the drug for personal consumption.
“As you may know, the majority of possession convictions happen at the state level rather than at the federal level, which means that without similar action here in Florida, many Floridians will still carry the burden of their conviction,” Jones wrote in a letter.
Were the Governor to take such action, it wouldn’t be the first time he used the influence and power of his office to overturn convictions.
Last year, DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, operating as the Office of Executive Clemency, voted 3-1 to pardon every Floridian penalized for violating local COVID-19 health guidelines.
And in January 2019, just three days after taking office, the office unanimously agreed to pardon a group of Black men known as the Groveland Four convicted rape more than 70 years ago in trials wrought with evidence of injustice.
Jones invoked the latter pardon in advocating for forgiveness for marijuana users whose futures grew murkier after being convicted of possession.
“By extending clemency to these four wrongly convicted men, you acknowledged the importance of ensuring that no one is punished for things they do not deserve,” Jones wrote. “Today, many Floridians continue to struggle to find employment, obtain housing, or to further their education because of a past conviction for simple possession of a substance that is already decriminalized for approximately two out of five Floridians at the local level.
“By extending a pardon to these individuals, you would enable them an opportunity to begin a new chapter of their lives without the burdens that come with a criminal conviction.”
In addition to pardoning thousands of Americans with simple marijuana convictions, Biden on Thursday directed his administration to review how the drug is scheduled under federal law, an important step toward decriminalization.
He also called on Governors to issue pardons of their own, a move that would address the overwhelming majority of marijuana possession cases. Arrests for marijuana accounted for 40% of all drug-related arrests nationwide in 2018, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and preliminary data from the agency shows 170,800 of the 490,000 drug possession arrests in 2021 — about 35% — were for marijuana.
And according to an expansive study by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a White person, despite similar use rates among both groups.
Praise for Biden’s surprise decision — he called marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as 2019 — was widespread throughout Florida on Thursday, particularly among Democrats.
Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate for Governor, called it a “monumental step forward” in criminal justice.
Crist vowed, if elected, to push for full marijuana legalization and the expungement of all existing charges and sentences for nonviolent offenses.
“It’s time to right the policies that have failed our fellow Floridians, too many of whom are our Black and brown neighbors,” he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who sued the Biden administration in April over “conflicts” between state and federal gun and marijuana laws, similarly lauded Biden’s decision and urged DeSantis to follow suit.
“I will be asking that this issue be included on our next Clemency Board agenda,” she said.
Some Republicans joined in the celebration. Among them: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a DeSantis ally and stalwart proponent of marijuana legalization who used the occasion to take a potshot at the President.
“The (White House) is finally taking my advice. I called out Sleepy Joe months ago!” he wrote on Instagram. “Now it’s time to do what you said you would do and DECRIMINALIZE.”