(CNN) – President Joe Biden is taking his first major steps toward decriminalizing marijuana, fulfilling a campaign pledge to erase prior federal possession convictions and beginning the process of potentially loosening federal classification of the drug.Biden on Thursday will pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, a move that senior administration officials said would affect thousands of Americans charged with that crime.The announcement comes a month ahead of critical November elections that will determine control of Congress.
Some candidates – in particular Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for his state's US Senate seat – have made the issue of marijuana legalization central to their campaigns.
When Fetterman and Biden met last month, the candidate said he would raise the issue with the President. At the same time, Democrats have sought to rebuff allegations they are soft on crime, an issue that has risen to the top of some voters' agendas in certain swing districts.As part of the announcement, Biden also encouraged governors to take similar steps to pardon state simple marijuana possession charges, a move that would potentially affect many thousands more Americans.And the President will task the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law, the first step toward potentially easing a federal classification that currently places marijuana in the same category as heroin and LSD.“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video announcing his executive actions.