When the U.S. president pardons a turkey each Thanksgiving, it’s a light-hearted moment. But when President Joe Biden was asked in 2021 if he would also extend pardons to convicted marijuana offenders as he had promised, he brushed it off with a laugh.
President Biden pardoned turkeys named Peanut Butter and Jelly on Nov. 19 during a pre-Thanksgiving presidential tradition in the White House Rose Garden. But when he was later asked if he would also pardon human beings, he seemed to take it as a joke. Clemency advocates have been pushing Biden to honor his pledge to free “everyone” in prison for marijuana offenses
“Will you be pardoning any people in addition to turkeys?” a New York Post reporter asked Biden.
Biden pointed at a reporter and joked, “Are you — you need a pardon?” In response to a follow-up question about whether he would free marijuana offenders as promised on the 2020 campaign trail, Biden said, “just turkeys.”
The remarks offended supporters of incarcerated marijuana offenders and dashed the hopes of those in prison that they would soon be pardoned as Biden promised. In 2020, there were an estimated 40,000 people incarcerated for marijuana offenses, even though cannibals business is being encouraged by the government, Forbes reported.
“I haven’t seen my family in years. And it’s discouraging to know that the president is going to pardon two turkeys while I struggle through this pandemic in an overcrowded prison,” said Luke Scarmazzo, 41, in a NY Post interview. Scarmazzo has served 14 years of a 22-year sentence for running a medical marijuana operation in California.
“There are many cannabis prisoners that deserve to go home for the holidays, but instead, we’re going to watch a couple turkeys go free,” he added.
“Maybe it’s time to end the tradition of pardoning two birds every Thanksgiving holiday, considering there are almost 18,000 pending clemency petitions consisting of many wonderful candidates who have served decades in prison during a historic pandemic no less,” said Amy Povah, founder of the nonprofit CAN-DO Foundation, which fights for the release of nonviolent drug offenders.
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As a senator, Biden helped write one of the nation’s harshest drug laws — the controversial 1994 Crime Bill, signed into law by the Clinton administration. The bill introduced the “three strikes” rule that gave mandatory life sentences without parole to people convicted of three or more drug trafficking crimes or serious violent felonies. Many people were sentenced to the maximum for nonviolent drug offenses because it was their third strike.
Biden appeared to have a change of heart from his tough-on-crime stance while running for president in 2020. “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period,” Biden said during a 2019 debate. “And I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”
In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump commuted the sentences of seven people serving life terms on marijuana convictions — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of the 1994 crime law.