Roosevelt Room

2:01 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I thank you, Fat Joe, for — for being here and — and taking the time but really for your voice on so many critical issues.  In addition to you the gift of your artistry, I thank you for being here.

Governor Beshear, thank you.  I said earlier to the group at the table that you have been an extraordinary leader in many ways, not only for the people of Kentucky but nationally.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And, on this issue, I would like to just publicly applaud and thank you for being so forward-leaning around having the courage to challenge certain traditions and critically evaluate whether what we have been doing is smart and what can we do to be smarter.  And your leadership, I think, is inspirational to a lot of others.  So, thank you for that.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, I will say that I believe that the promise of America includes equal justice under the law.  And for too many, our criminal justice system has failed to live up to that core principle.  And I say that with full knowledge of how this system has worked, including my experience as a prosecutor. 

The President and I have addressed inequities through implementation of long-overdue criminal justice reforms.  For example, we have, at the federal level, banned chokeholds; we have restricted no-knock warrants; and created the first-ever database to track misconduct by law enforcement. 

This is critically important, that last piece.  The first pieces may be obvious.  But, as we know, all too often we have seen examples of where a police officer has been found to have committed misconduct in one region but then can move to another region and that record does not follow that individual.  And then, of course, the same behavior repeats itself.  So, the fact that we have made a commitment to having that kind of database is really very significant in the push toward ensuring that we have justice in the criminal justice system. 

We have also been focused on reentry — some of the work that I started back when I was DA San Francisco in 2005 — looking at what we must do to appreciate the fact that folks who have been held accountable through the criminal justice system should also have an opportunity — once they have done their time, have paid their due — to have the ability to reenter and be productive and do what they aspire to do, which is to help support their families and live a productive life. 

To that end, there are a few things that we have done that are very significant.  One is we have now and recently announced making Small Business Administration loans available to previously incarcerated individuals.  That is significant because, before now, they were prohibited from being eligible for Small Business Administration loans. 

And I have personally met many people who were formerly incarcerated who are hardworking, who are intelligent, who are innovative and want an ability to be able to contribute to the economy of their community, need access to capital, could not have qualified for these loans, and now will be eligible. 

We have also expanded Pell Grants for individuals who are currently incarcerated.  We know that there are many people who while incarcerated attempt to upgrade their education with an anticipation that, when they are released, they will be able to put it to good use.  But they are not necessarily able to afford the online courses that would help them do that.  So, the extension of Pell Grants to those who are currently incarcerated will facilitate more people being able to aspire and actually follow through on their dreams of — of getting an education. 

We have also, through the Health and Human Services Department, expanded our ability and responsibility to get information to those who are currently incarcerated but soon should be released about the benefits that they are eligible for when they get out — in particular, through Medicaid.  Because we know that there is a moment between release and reentering the community where we want to make sure these individuals have all the resources they need within a short period of time of release so that they can hit the ground running to live a productive life and reenter their communities. 

We have also, through our administration, through Joe Biden’s leadership, we have addressed inequities in federal drug policy, and that’s the subject of today’s meeting.

Historically, there has been — there are many examples, frankly, of disparities that follow racial lines in the criminal justice system.  One well-known example is the disparity around sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine. 

And what we know is that the disparity is such that it’s almost 100 to 1 in terms of the kinds of sentences that people would be committed to for crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine.  And, historically, we know that certain communities would use crack cocaine versus powder cocaine because crack cocaine was just cheaper.

We have also addressed what we need to do around clemency and to shorten some of the excessive crack cocaine sentences.  Joe Biden has been very clear about his intention and actually practice to do that, again, acknowledging the disparities that have existed and what we have the ability to do to correct some of those going forward.

We have gra- — gathered today, however, to address specifically the injustices that we have seen in federal marijuana policy.  I have said many times: I believe — I think we all at this table believe — nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed.  And what we need to do is recognize that far too many people have been sent to jail for simple marijuana possession. 

And the impact is such that, in particular, Black Americans and Latinos are four times more likely — four times more likely to be arrested — arrested for marijuana possession, and the disparity is even larger when you talk about the subset of Black men and Latino men.

So, this is an issue that must be addressed.  It is work that, again, I have done over the years.  It is work that we are also doing as an administration.

First, I will tell you that we have pardoned tens of thousands of people with federal convictions for simple marijuana possession.  And today, we are joined by some of the pardon recipients so that we can have a conversation about what this has meant for them as a model and inspiration for what we must do for many others who are not at this table.

And their stories, I will tell you, are proof of the importance of pardons and what it means in the life of an individual in terms of allowing them a second chance and an ability to reenter their community in a productive way.

Second, we have issued a call to action for states to pardon these types of offenses — in particular, on possession.  That is why I have asked the governor of Kentucky to be here — excuse me — (clears throat) — Governor Beshear, who has basically pardoned and — and has addressed the convictions of people in Kentucky with simple marijuana possession convictions, and they can now apply for pardons.

So, he’s going to talk with us about that as a model for what other states can and should do.  And I challenge other states to follow his lead.

Third, we have directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to reassess how marijuana is classified under the federal drug schedule.  And I cannot emphasize enough that they need to get to it as quickly as possible, and we need to have a resolution based on their findings and their assessment.

But this issue is — is stark when one considers the fact that, on the schedule currently, marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin.  Marijuana is considered as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl, which is absurd, not to mention patently unfair.

So, I’m sure DEA is working as quickly as possible and will continue to do so, and we look forward to the product of their work.

And with that, I will conclude by saying that the work that we have achieved thus far is important, but there still is much more to do.  And I thank the participants who are at this table.  And, Governor, again, I want to thank you for your leadership and Fat Joe for moderating our discussion today.

And with that, I thank the press. 

Have a good afternoon.  (Applause.)

END                       2:11 P.M. EDT

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