Connect with us


Maryland Governor Pledges To Work With Lawmakers On Marijuana Expungements To Build On His Mass Pardon Move



On a press tour following his announcement of pardons of more than 175,000 state-level marijuana possession and paraphernalia convictions this week, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said there’s still work to do to expunge cannabis convictions, and he’s pledging to work with lawmakers to achieve the broader reform.

Moore acknowledged in an interview with NPR that his pardon action does not remove the records of those convictions from people’s criminal histories. “That’s something that has to be done with legislative action,” he explained. “The pardon is something that the governor has unique authority over.”

“On the other elements,” he continued, “I’ll be working in partnership with the legislature to make sure that we get full coverage on everything else.”

Moore said when announcing the mass pardon on Monday that it represents “the largest such action in our nation’s history,” adding that legalization alone “does not turn back the clock on decades of harm that was caused by this war on drugs.”

The advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has also drawn attention the limitations of cannabis pardons under Maryland law.

“In Maryland, a pardon does not eliminate or erase the conviction,” the group said in an email about the actions. “In order for Marylanders to remove the stigma of their cannabis record, they must petition for expungement.”

While some states have passed laws requiring expungements happen automatically, a petition-based process requires action in court from affected individuals, which can be burdensome.

Some Marylanders with simple possession convictions have already seen relief under a separate state-run expungement process, which Moore told NPR has impacted tens of thousands of people.

Under companion legislation to the state’s marijuana legalization law, MPP noted, “Maryland was required to provide state-initiated expungement for some — but not all — marijuana possession offenses,” with a deadline of July 1.

“It’s unclear if Maryland will meet its deadline,” MPP said. The group applauded Moore’s “step toward justice” with the pardons while at the same time “urging Maryland to meet the July 1 deadline and to expand upon its very limited state-initiated expungement.”

“While the state brings in tens of millions of dollars from cannabis taxes,” the group argued, “it should not be closing the door of opportunity on those who engaged in the same conduct.”

Appearing on other news outlets to tout his pardon action, Moore described the pardons as a necessary component of the state’s revised stance on marijuana.

“This is about both moral justice and economic justice,” he told MSNBC, noting that despite the state’s legalization of marijuana last year, “we still had over 100,000 people who still had cannabis charges” that can prevent people from securing employment, education and housing for years after the offense.

“If you’re wondering whether or not this should happen in your states, I would say this: Listen to your people. Listen to what they’re telling you,” he said. “That’s exactly what we did in the state of Maryland. When we put it off for referendum, we saw overwhelmingly that the people of our state wanted this done.”

CBS, meanwhile, observed that the actions came just days ahead of the Juneteenth holiday on Wednesday, reporting that the administration’s goal was to address Black and brown communities that had been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, for example in Baltimore and Prince George’s counties.

“The thing that I always knew was that you cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if you are not dealing with the consequences of criminalization,” Moore told the network. “We have people who still have cannabis records that are keeping them from gaining access to education and housing and employment.”

Moore even responded to a social media post by ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s that said the governor “got it right when he said, ‘We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization.'”

“My favorite ice cream is vanilla with Berger cookie dough and peanut butter,” the governor quipped, “in case you’ve got room for a ‘We Want Moore’ flavor.”

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) said in an interview with CNN that the pardon actions build on the state’s legalization of marijuana and help “ensure that communities that were negatively impacted during the war on drugs will now benefit.”

“It’s a hopeful day in Maryland,” he said. “We have challenges with the federal government not acting to take cannabis off the schedule—or certainly Schedule I, but notwithstanding that, Maryland and other states continue to move forward.”

Moore’s pardon action this week cover about 100,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions and 75,000 paraphernalia cases. The clemency is also being offered posthumously in certain instances.

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.

Brown at the time 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.”

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.

Following his pardons at the federal level, Biden falsely stated on several occasions that his actions also expunged people’s records, though last month he acknowledged the limitations of his action—stating that for clemency recipients, “their records should be expunged as well, I might add.”

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.

Congressman Seeks To Block Feds From Seizing Marijuana From State-Legal Businesses Amid New Mexico Border Patrol Controversy

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.