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Maryland Governor Pardons 175,000 Marijuana Convictions

Gov. Moore says we cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization without addressing the consequences of criminalization

Maryland Governor Pardons 175,000 Marijuana Convictions

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has signed an executive order pardoning 175,000 convictions in connection with marijuana possession and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

The Governor’s Office considers this the largest state pardon in history and says that this executive order makes Maryland the first state in the U.S. to issue sweeping pardons for paraphernalia.

“I am humbled to be with you in the historic Maryland State House – as we make history of our own, together,” Moore announced in a post on X. “This morning – with deep pride and soberness – I will pardon over 175,000 convictions related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia.”

Moore told The Washington Post the pardons are a step to repair decades of injustice that has disproportionally harmed black Americans.  He explained that criminal records have adversely impacted the ability for people to obtain housing, employment, and education long after sentences have been served.

“I’m ecstatic that we have a real opportunity with what I’m signing to right a lot of historical wrongs,” Moore said in an interview with the Post. “If you want to be able to create inclusive economic growth, it means you have to start removing these barriers that continue to disproportionately sit on communities of color.”

The pardons were timed to overlap with Juneteenth, a federal holiday on June 19, commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.

According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), despite similar usage rates, black individuals are 3.6 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Maryland legalized recreational use of marijuana last summer through a ballot measure. Now, people ages 21 and older are able to possess and use up to an ounce of cannabis for personal consumption.

"Legalization does not erase the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland during the early 2000s were for cannabis. It doesn't erase the fact that Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white Marylanders before legalization," Moore said during a speech announcing the policy shift. "It doesn't erase the fact that having a conviction on your record means a harder time with everything, everything from housing to employment to education. It doesn't erase the fact that people who were arrested for cannabis three or four or 40 years ago still have those convictions on their records to this day."

Moore added that we cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization without addressing the consequences of criminalization.

The announcement comes just a month after the Biden administration advanced a proposal to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule III, which, if approved, would be the biggest shift in federal drug policy in more than 50 years.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott hailed the pardons as a win for the local community.

“For those receiving pardons – which includes thousands upon thousands of Baltimoreans – it will be life changing,” he said in a statement on X. “I want to thank and commend Governor Moore for his commitment, compassion, and love for the people who have been so impacted by this history.”

The ACLU of Maryland applauded Moore’s efforts in pardoning low-level marijuana convictions and called for more sweeping actions to remedy racial injustices.

“More than 50 years of intentional smear framing and propaganda spewed by the media and politicians have allowed law enforcement to unfairly target and criminalize Black people. The next step is for Maryland to restore people from the harm that’s been done from felony marijuana convictions,” said Yanet Amanuel, public policy director with the ACLU of Maryland.

“If we want our state to truly legalize marijuana and stop racist enforcement by police, we need to prioritize expunging possession with intent to distribute convictions and eliminate criminal penalties for these offenses,” Amanuel added. “This change matters so that people do not lose access to employment, education, and housing.”

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