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Maryland Governor Pardons More Than 175,000 Marijuana And Paraphernalia Convictions



The governor of Maryland has pardoned more than 175,000 convictions for low-level marijuana and paraphernalia offenses—a sweeping clemency action that is being granted about a year after the state implemented cannabis legalization.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced the mass pardon on Monday, describing it as “the largest such action in our nation’s history” and noting that legalization alone “does not turn back the clock on decades of harm that was caused by this war on drugs.”

“We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization,” he said at a press conference.

While the state’s legalization law created “one of the best and most equitable legal markets in the country,” Moore said “that rollout must go hand in hand with pardoning past conduct, and Maryland is going to lead by example.”

The pardons cover about 100,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions and 75,000 paraphernalia cases. The clemency is also being offered posthumously in certain instances.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) called the pardon action “long overdue.”

“As a nation, we’ve taken far too long to correct the injustices of a system that is supposed to be just for all,” he said. “Yet within an unprecedented time frame, governor, you took bold and courageous action.”

“Your action today is about equity. It’s about racial justice,” Brown told the governor. “While the order applies to all who meet its criteria, the impact is a triumphant victory for African Americans and other Marylanders of color who were disproportionately arrested, convicted and sentenced for actions yesterday that are lawful today. Today is momentous day for Maryland.”

Eligibility criteria for the pardons under Moore’s order include:

  • Convictions for misdemeanor possession of cannabis or misdemeanor use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia;
  • Convictions for misdemeanor use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia were in cases associated with misdemeanor cannabis possession and no other charges were incurred;
  • Related disposition of guilty or probation before judgment;
  • Charges occurring prior to January 1, 2023, when possession of personal use amount of cannabis was decriminalized.

Within about two weeks, Maryland courts will act to make sure electronic dockets are updated to indicate that affected convictions have been pardoned.

The governor is also directing the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to create a process to indicate on a covered person’s criminal record that their conviction was pardoned, a process expected to take approximately 10 months to complete.

Sarah Gersten, executive director of Last Prisoner Project (LPP) said in a press release on Monday that “it has been nearly a year since Maryland passed full cannabis legalization, and at the same time that some are poised to profit off of this burgeoning industry, millions more remain burdened by the collateral consequences of a cannabis conviction.”

“LPP is proud to be part of today’s historic announcement which is a crucial step in beginning to right the wrongs of our failed approach to cannabis policy,” she said.

Moore signed the executive order using the LPP’s “Pen to Right History,” which people across the country have used to to write letters urging elected officials to take cannabis justice action.

“The pen is a powerful symbol to represent the real impact that legislation and executive action have to help rectify the wrongful imprisonment of victimless cannabis-related sentences,” Moore’s office said in a press release. “The governor’s pardon will not release any incarcerated individuals, but it is an important first step to ensuring the fair and equitable administration of justice surrounding cannabis convictions in Maryland.”

One of the only comparable examples of such state-level clemency happened in Massachusetts in April, when officials unanimously approved the governor’s proposal to pardon thousands of people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions of their records.

The Maryland governor’s pardons are unique in part because they include paraphernalia convictions, whereas other states have largely focused on cannabis possession cases.

Supporters also noted that this clemency is being granted in the background of President Joe Biden’s mass pardons for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses.

Meanwhile, in April, Maryland officials also announced the winners of a first-of-its-kind marijuana licensing lottery for social equity applicants across all license categories, approving 174 growers, processors and dispensaries.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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