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Maryland Governor And NAACP President Say Marijuana Pardons Will Unlock Economic Opportunities For People Targeted By Criminalization

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The governor of Maryland and president of the NAACP are promoting the state’s historic mass marijuana pardon, which they say will unlock the economic potential of people targeted by criminalization. But the governor is also stressing the need to get the word out about next steps for the majority of pardon recipients whose records weren’t automatically expunged by his clemency move.

For the past few weeks, Gov. Wes Moore (D) has been touting the 175,000 pardons he issued for cannabis possession and paraphernalia convictions, gaining praise from the White House and other officials such as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D). In recent Instagram live videos, he discussed the clemency action with NAACP President Derrick Johnson and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

“You can’t celebrate the benefits of legalization if you do not wrestle with the consequences of criminalization,” Moore said. “You can’t do it. This is just basic fairness.”

“This was a way of being able to say that we are able to wrestle with our history to create a better future—and one that we think could honor all of us,” he said.

Johnson, the head of the NAACP, said he can “already imagine all of the individuals who have benefited now from this decision, and they can be gainfully employed.”

“They are not walking around with a scarlet letter. They can actually be contributing members of society,” he said, adding that prohibition was a racially discriminatory “trap that created barriers for some of the most intelligent, gifted individuals this society has ever produced.”

“Now they can really share their gifts—not only to for their families, not only for their neighborhoods and the African community, but for democracy,” the NAACP leader said.

The governor agreed, emphasizing the range of consequences of having a misdemeanor marijuana conviction.

“This is impacting folks who are looking to get barber licenses. This is impacting folks who are looking to get government contracts. This is impacting folks who are looking to get student loans and home loans,” he said. “The fact that we have used cannabis as this cudgel for so long, and then we’re willing to say, ‘but we’re going to open up a market’ and not wrestle with the fact that so many people and families have been so directly impacted on this, it just did not make sense.”

But Moore—who also marked the one-year anniversary of the state’s adult-use cannabis market launch this week—also made clear in his separate virtual conversation with Packnett Cunningham that not everyone who received the pardon has had their record automatically cleared. About over 100,000, they will need to take additional steps for formalize the relief with an expungement.

“For over 40,000 [convictions], there’s nothing left for you to do. It’s done. The signature just cleared your record, and your record is now done and expunged,” Moore said. “For the rest who that might not be their case, just simply go through the state’s website, and also you’ll be able to then go through beginning that expungement process, and with that expungement process, now that you have a gubernatorial pardon, that really becomes just a more of a formality that we need to do.”

“Now the big thing I want to say is this is the first step. We got more to come, because there are still wrongs when it came to particularly about how we looked about cannabis that our state is continuing to push on,” the governor said. “This is a first step. It’s an incredibly important step. It’s the biggest step that this country has made. But we’re not done.

“But for many of the people who we’re talking about, the signature is all you needed. You are now pardoned. You’re done, and your records are expunged,” he said. “For all the rest, just make sure to be in contact with us about how to fulfill the rest of the expungement process.”

While the governor has focused much of his attention on the criminal justice implications of legalization and his executive pardons, the state’s marijuana market has also been economically impactful.

Since Maryland’s adult-use cannabis market launched in July of last year, licensed retailers have sold more than $1.1 billion worth of legal marijuana products, including more than $700 million to adult consumers and $400 million in medical marijuana, the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA) said this week.

“When I signed the Cannabis Reform Act into law last May, it was a beacon of hope and equity and progress—and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish to date,” Moore said. “Since then, we’ve seen the tangible benefits of this law, from the decriminalization of cannabis to the creation of new economic opportunities and the establishment of social equity programs through our Office of Social Equity.”

During the first quarter of 2024, meanwhile, the state collected nearly $15 million in marijuana sales tax revenue—an increase of less than 0.7 percent compared to the previous quarter.

Aside from cannabis, the governor in May also signed a pair of bills into law to establish a psychedelics task force that will study legal access to substances like psilocybin and DMT.

Federal Health Officials Lay Out Priorities For Medical Marijuana And Cannabinoid Research

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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