The move has been welcomed by some as a long-overdue reform, but the effects of reclassifying marijuana are not clear, and could end up meaning more regulation rather than less.
How many people will be affected by the pardon?
Relatively few people in the United States are convicted of simple possession in federal court. Most are convicted of more serious trafficking offenses, which are not covered by the pardon. A senior administration official said more than 6,500 people with prior federal convictions could be affected by the pardons. While none of them is currently in prison, clearing their convictions could remove barriers to finding jobs or housing.
The vast majority of marijuana prosecutions take place at the state level, where each state has its own laws ranging from criminalisation to full legalisation, and will not be affected.
How could marijuana be reclassified?
Marijuana is currently classified as a so-called Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning its possession is almost entirely banned except for certain research purposes. The classification is the same as that of heroin used for drugs deemed to have no legitimate medical uses.
Moving marijuana to a lower tier on the Controlled Substances Act schedule would allow it to be prescribed by doctors. If it became a Schedule II drug, like most opioids used for pain management, those prescriptions would still be tightly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration. If it were moved…