Salt Lake County DA discusses Biden’s pardon of marijuana possession

Oct 6, 2022, 8:30 PM | Updated: Oct 7, 2022, 11:12 am
Salt Lake County DA Sim Gill speaking behind a podium...
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks during a press conference at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 18, 2022 (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — President Biden announced pardons for thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession federally Thursday. He is urging state governors to do the same.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill joined Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News to discuss what this means for the Beehive State.

Gill began by saying Salt Lake County does prosecute cases of marijuana possession.

“There is an ongoing misdemeanor prosecution that occurs because it’s still illegal in the state of Utah,” he told Caplan. “So, there is some criminal enforcement that does occur across the state by prosecutors.”

And he said that while Utah’s sentencing guidelines differ from those at the federal level, there are similarities.

“Federal prosecution has a different kind of impact,” Gill says. “There is similarity in a sense. I think what the president is talking about and some of the other researchers are talking about is that, look, we have almost 20 states that have legalized [marijuana]. They have uneven enforcement … under a federal guideline, and states need to start to come back and re-examine that.”

Gill also discussed medical marijuana and the chance that it could be re-evaluated.

“For example, medical cannabis is legal in the state of Utah … Do we still want to keep it as a schedule 1,” he said. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration defines a schedule one drug as one with no “currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Gill says if marijuana is taken off schedule 1, the plant will be open for more research.

Will Utah re-examine possession of marijuana?

Gill said it’s important to talk about how Utah will proceed. Asking whether Utah should decriminalize marijuana or enact civil fines is important, he said, because the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are dire.

“The question is, does it make sense for us to re-examine and proportionalize the accountability,” he said. “Whether it’s in the context of a civil fine, because you don’t want underage people to have [marijuana]. You want to control the point of sale. You want to be able to tax it appropriately. Those are the conversations for our legislature to have.”

Gov. Cox’s response

Gov. Spencer Cox released this statement Thursday night:

“As Utah’s governor, I don’t have the authority to pardon anyone, but I disagree with the president’s entire approach. Whether it’s transferring student loan debts to millions of other taxpayers or ignoring federal law enforcement laws, the president continues to disregard the checks and balances in our system. If you want to see a change in our laws, do the hard work that it takes to enact that change with Congress. But taking an executive action like this only weeks before an election is nothing more than a desperate attempt to win votes.”

Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News can be heard on weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

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Salt Lake County DA discusses Biden’s pardon of marijuana possession