Right-wing media react to Biden pardoning federal marijuana offenses with fearmongering and deflection

Sean Hannity next to a graphic of Joe Biden and a marijuana cigarette with the caption "Hail Mary Jane"

Soon after the Biden administration announced it would pardon simple marijuana offenses at the federal level, conservative media went on offense, fearmongering with unfounded narratives that the move would increase crime and trying to divert attention to news about the president's son, Hunter Biden. 

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a three-step initiative to alleviate the burden of minor marijuana offenses on everyday Americans and the criminal justice system. The president granted federal pardons for simple marijuana possession and urged state governors to follow suit for similar state offenses. Further, the president called upon the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to review the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance — the same schedule as heroin and LSD and one higher than fentanyl and methamphetamine.

The White House estimates that “over 6,500 people with prior federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana and thousands of such convictions under D.C. law could benefit from this relief.” Pardoning minute marijuana offenses falls under the president’s efforts to address racial inequities in the criminal justice system, as Black people are more likely to be arrested on possession charges than white people in every state, including those that have legalized the drug. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Biden’s pardon also “means thousands of people now face fewer barriers to housing, employment, education and stability.”

Overlooking any benefits of marijuana reform, right-wing media have quickly seized on the Biden administration’s announcement to baselessly claim that pardoning marijuana offenses will exacerbate crime and to accuse Biden of making the announcement to detract from potential federal charges against his son.

Right-wing media attempt to pin Biden as soft on crime and claim pardons will threaten public safety

Following the announcement of Biden’s pardons, right-wing media and figureheads immediately spiraled into a moral panic à la Reefer Madness over fears of “drug traffickers and gang members that pled down to simple possession” suddenly being released from federal prison.

In reality, marijuana policy reform does not increase crime rates; in fact, some studies point to marijuana policy reform as a public safety benefit that can reduce high rates of violent and property crimes post-legalization. 

  • Racist conservative media pundit Ann Coulter tweeted that the pardons were “unbelievable.” In a Substack article titled “BREAKING: Biden Pardons THOUSANDS of Violent Felons in Time for the Midterms,” Coulter wrote, “NO ONE GOES TO FEDERAL PRISON FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION! I don’t care what the ‘conviction’ says.”
  • Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton ranted on Twitter, writing, “After turning over our nation's borders to the drug cartels, Biden announces mass ‘pardons’ and other executive actions to undermine criminal laws against drug trafficking.”
  • Later that day Fitton also tweeted, “Biden's reckless mass pardons and other ‘executive actions’ to make it easier to commit drug-related crimes will immediately place the public safety at risk.”
  • Washington Examiner Commentary Editor Conn Carroll wrote, “​​It is hard to understand why exactly Democrats think pardoning people convicted of marijuana possession will help reduce crime. It must be the same logic that leads them to believe the solution to the border crisis is to release those immigrants arrested for illegally crossing the southern border into the country more quickly.”
  • On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said, “A lot of those were plea deals, so you have a serious drug charge and you knock it down to a marijuana charge that was part of a deal and now all of a sudden you are free.” Guest co-host Will Cain responded, “In your mind, the picture that is created is some guy walking around with a joint ends up in federal prison. That's probably not who we are talking about here with those 6,500 pardons — what a huge number.” 
  • On his Fox News prime-time show host Sean Hannity said Biden “is rolling out a political Hail Mary and today, one year after firing or suspending dozens of White House staffers for past marijuana use, well, Biden announced a widespread pardon to anybody convicted of marijuana possession on the federal level. And keep in mind this only involves charges at the federal level, it could include a huge number of drug traffickers and gang members that pled down to simple possession."
Video file

Citation From the October 6, 2022, edition of Fox News' Hannity

Right-wing media suggest the timing of the announcement was meant to deflect attention away from potential criminal charges against Hunter Biden

Shortly before Joe Biden announced his three-step plan for marijuana reform, The Washington Post reported that federal agents gathered what they see as enough evidence to charge the president’s son, Hunter Biden, with tax crimes and making “a false statement related to a gun purchase.” 

Right-wing media have repeatedly invoked Hunter Biden, using his past to distract from other stories and smear Democratic leaders, and their response to the White House’s recent marijuana announcement is no different. 

Some in right-wing media responded to the president’s executive actions by ignoring their substance, declaring the announcement was only used as a “headline-changer,” and criticizing media outlets for not covering the recent news about Hunter Biden instead.

  • Media Research Center Associate Editor Nicholas Fondacaro tweeted: ​​”Minutes after the Washington Post reports that federal agents are ready to charge Hunter Biden for tax and gun crimes, President Biden announces demands for reform on federal weed laws. This is what we call a ‘distraction.’” 
  • President of the conservative nonprofit American Commitment Phil Kerden said, “I support this, but not delaying it for years to keep in reserve for a headline-changer when news of Hunter's pending indictment breaks.”
  • NewsBusters’ Executive Editor Tim Graham pushed this narrative multiple times on Twitter, attacking media for focusing on the president’s announcement instead:
  • Conservative newspaper the Washington Free Beacon tweeted: “News broke at 2:26 PM that federal agents believe they see enough evidence to charge Hunter Biden with tax and gun-purchase crimes. It is now 3:10 and CNN has not mentioned it (they have instead been covering marijuana legalization and Ukraine.)”