Office of the Pardon Attorney Requests Funds To Tackle Pardon Applications

High Times
Tue, Apr 2

The Office of the Pardon Attorney (PARDON), which operates under the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), recently published its FY 2025 President’s Budget Submission. PARDON is responsible for carrying out instructions related to the executive clemency process, which includes reviewing and investigating clemency applications, as well as issuing recommendations to the president. 

For next year, PARDON is requesting $12,568,000 in funds, which would go toward funding 40 additional positions (including 26 attorneys) “to achieve its mission of advising and assisting the president in the exercise of the executive clemency power conferred to him by Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.”

Among various listed upcoming challenges is the recent increase in clemency applications. The report stated that prior to FY 2014, and especially during the 1990s, PARDON only included 11 staff positions, which was enough to tackle the 600 applications that would come in annually. However, between FY 2012-FY 2023, PARDON received 52,065 applications.

PARDON is hoping to increase its resources further due to this increase in applications specifically related to cannabis. “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 report stated.

The report continued to explain the status of the agency, noting that as of February 2024, only 171 pardon certificates were issued, and a total of 184 since 2023. PARDON explained that certificates are issued only after a thorough case investigation has been conducted.

However, with an increase in funds, PARDON seeks to increase the rate at which cases are conducted. “The FY 2025 request will allow PARDON to both continue to review and address pending clemency cases, receive new ones, evaluate capital cases, and process the influx of submissions pursuant to the two Presidential Proclamations on marijuana,” PARDON stated.

Furthermore, PARDON is setting a goal of increasing its “Percentage of marijuana certificates issued to eligible recipients within 30 days of application receipt,” to 80% in FY 2024.

President Joe Biden initially announced that he would be pardoning federal cannabis prisoners in October 2022, and also promised that the White House would “review expeditiously” the current classification of cannabis. The DOJ began to conduct investigations for pardon applications in March 2023, but didn’t begin issuing pardon certificates until after September 2023 under Biden’s order. It also held a public comment period between March 2023 and August 2023, in order to gather information on how to “expeditiously” act on Biden’s order to grant pardons related to simple cannabis possession.

In December 2023, Biden pardoned 11 people who held non-violent cannabis convictions and expanded his pardon initiative to include offenses that occurred on federal property. “America was founded on the principle of equal justice under law. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect this core value that makes our communities safer and stronger,” Biden said. “That is why today I am announcing additional steps I am taking to make the promise of equal justice a reality.”

Much more recently in March, Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a weed policy reform summit where she said that the current schedule of cannabis is “absurd” and called for it to be rescheduled as soon as possible. The summit was attended by rapper Fat Joe, recently pardoned advocate Chris Goldstein, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “I hope everyone can recognize the importance of Vice President Harris calling to “legalize marijuana” in a room that Richard Nixon built = huge,” Goldstein posted on X.

Amidst a shift in promises for cannabis rescheduling or a lifting of federal prohibition, legislators are still calling on Biden to commute the sentences of all federal cannabis prisoners. A total of 36 legislators signed a letter to Biden on March 14, inquiring about Biden’s 2020 campaign pledge to decriminalize cannabis on a federal level. “Until the day Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the letter stated. “It is inconsistent for the federal government to keep punishing individuals for violating a ban that it does not actually support and that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose on a bipartisan basis… We ask that you commute the prison sentences of all individuals who are incarcerated for federal marijuana offenses.”

Some governors are continuing to push for cannabis-related pardons, such as Massachusetts Gov. Maura T. Healey. In mid-March Healey announced her plans to pardon cannabis misdemeanors. She said it “would be the most comprehensive action by a governor since President Joe Biden pardoned federal marijuana possession convictions and called on governors to take similar actions in their states,” and that it “could impact hundreds of thousands of people.”