US President Joe Biden on Thursday said he would take executive action to pardon anyone who has been convicted at the federal level for possessing marijuana, a move that will affect the sentences of thousands.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Mr Biden said.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit."
A White House official told Bloomberg News that the move might affect 6,500 people, noting that pardons would help people to secure jobs and homes.
“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities," Mr Biden said.
His pardon order also affects those convicted in the nation's capital, Washington.
Mr Biden requested that all US states consider a similar move for state-level offences.
He announced major steps in starting the process of decriminalising the possession of marijuana, which has been legalised or allowed for medical use in many states.
But it remains a major target for US law enforcement in other states where it is not yet legal.
Mr Biden ordered US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Health and Human Services to “review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law”.
The Department of Justice said it would begin work to pardon people “in the coming days” and would research how the substance was federally categorised, or scheduled, in criminal statutes.
Marijuana has the same criminal classification as heroin and LSD, and is ranked higher than deadly fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Mr Biden said “limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales should stay in place” as part of that review.
Decriminalising marijuana possession had been a campaign promise of Mr Biden and is widely backed by many American voters across political parties and ideologies.
He emphasised how marijuana possession charges have affected certain communities more than others.
“While white and black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Mr Biden said.