Biden reduces sentences of 11 facing non-violent drug charges

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said he would reduce the prison terms of 11 people serving decades-long sentences for non-violent drug charges and pardon some marijuana possession offenses.

Biden said the actions were meant to address disparities in sentencing that have long taken a toll on the Black community, and to expand his commitment to marijuana reform.

“America was founded on the principle of equal justice under law,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”

The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population but a fifth of its prisoners. A disproportionate share are people of color, who make up a sizable chunk of Biden’s base of support.

The moves come as Biden gears up for an intense year of campaigning ahead of the 2024 presidential election, amid sagging popularity, especially among young people.

Biden is commuting the sentences of 11 people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses, including some serving mandatory life sentences, a White House official said. Given recent reforms, each would have been eligible for reduced sentences if they were sentenced today.

Some faced longer sentences given longstanding disparities in sentencing for crack-vs-powder cocaine convictions, something legal experts now say does not aid public safety and disproportionately impacts Black communities.

Biden said he would also sign a proclamation to pardon additional marijuana offenses, including those for use and possession on certain federal lands.

The names of those whose sentences were commuted were not released.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christopher Cushing)