NC presidential pardon highlights marijuana reform

Published 9:01 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

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By Shanteya Hudson

NC News Service

A man from North Carolina serving a long sentence for selling drugs has received a presidential pardon, which sparked discussions about long sentences for marijuana-related offenses.

As President Joe Biden grants forgiveness to James Michael Barber, advocates for changing the current drug laws emphasize the need for broader reforms for marijuana-related charges.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the advocacy group known as NORML, said the significance of presidential pardons is important.

“It’s an acknowledgement from the most powerful person in the land that we have moved on from these offenses, and we’re forgiving these people for these offenses, and that this record should not be holding them back from future opportunities,” he said.

Barber’s sentence expired in February. He is now on a five-year supervised release. Armentano pointed out that a pardon doesn’t eliminate the challenges faced by people who have state charges.

Multiple states have changed their cannabis possession laws, and state courts have expunged or sealed the records in more than two million marijuana-related cases.

Armentano said NORML’s recommendations could be applied at the federal level to address stigmas and challenges associated with drug-crime offenses.

“A criminal record is a big deal, and a lifelong criminal record is a stigma for many individuals. It could potentially cost them opportunities, whether they’re opportunities for employment or opportunities for advancement in the workplace,” he explained.

He added NORML advocate Chris Goldstein, also a pardon recipient, recently discussed federal cannabis policies with Vice President Kamala Harris. Twenty-four states allow non-medical, adult use of cannabis, but they’re still at odds with federal law, which still outlaws marijuana use.