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Massachusetts Governor To Pardon Hundreds Of Thousands With Marijuana Convictions



The governor of Massachusetts is moving to pardon “hundreds of thousands” of people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions of their records, in line with President Joe Biden’s push for state-level clemency, she announced on Wednesday.

Gov. Maura Healey (D) said she is taking executive action to pardon individuals with simple possession convictions, pending approval by the Governor’s Council. The record sealing process will be automated by the state for most eligible people.

“Nobody should face barriers to getting a job, housing or an education because of an old misdemeanor marijuana conviction that they would not be charged for today,” Healey said in a press release.

“We’re taking this nation-leading action as part of our commitment to using the clemency process to advance fairness and equity in our criminal justice system,” she said. “We’re grateful for President Biden’s leadership on this at the federal level and proud to answer his call to take action in the states.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Healey said she believes her action is “the most sweeping cannabis pardon ever proposed by any governor in the United States.”

Massachusetts decriminalized low-level marijuana possession in 2008 and legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016, but the laws did not contain provisions for automatic expungements like those that were included in some other states’ policies.

“Marijuana laws have significantly changed over the past decade, and it’s essential that our criminal justice system adjusts with them,” Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll (D) said. “Governor Healey’s proposed pardon represents an important step toward righting historic wrongs, particularly around our country’s misguided War on Drugs.

“We thank the Governor’s Council for their careful consideration of this recommendation and look forward to continuing our progress to make Massachusetts a more fair and equitable home for all,” she said.

When Biden issued a first round of mass pardons for federal marijuana offenses, he also encouraged governors to follow suit with state-level relief.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) had said at the time that the state already took steps to facilitate expungements through legislation enacted in 2018 that allowed people to petition the courts for record sealing for cannabis offenses that have been decriminalized, but then-gubernatorial candidate Healey pledged to go further.

Healey’s office said her new move is the “most comprehensive action by a governor following President Biden’s call for marijuana pardons in the states.”

“I applaud the Healey-Driscoll administration’s efforts to rectify historic racial disparities, including with this proposed pardon, and President Biden’s leadership at the federal level on the same issue,” Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell (D) said.

“Convictions for simple marijuana possession—which someone could not be charged with today—have led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people and made it nearly impossible for them to obtain a job, housing, educational opportunities and more,” she said. “As the AG’s Office also works to address injustice and close the racial wealth gap, this proposed pardon meaningfully moves the Commonwealth in the right direction.”

House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D) said the “decision from Governor Healey to pardon certain marijuana convictions is the right one, as it is another step towards rectifying decades of injustices stemming from the criminalization of cannabis.”

“This announcement is consistent with the Legislature’s intent during the passage of the 2018 criminal justice reform law, which was updated in 2022 when the Legislature passed further cannabis reforms, that allowed residents to seek expungements for convictions that are no longer crimes following voter-approved reforms,” he said.

Senate President Karen Spilka (D) said that an “equitable Commonwealth is one where a misdemeanor cannabis conviction does not stand in the way of someone moving forward with their life with a new job, home, or education.”

“The legislature has worked hard to expand and expedite expungement, and I am elated that the Healey-Driscoll Administration is moving to pardon misdemeanor cannabis convictions,” she said. “This is the right thing to do.”

The Massachusetts Governor’s Council, which will now review the cannabis clemency proposal, has eight members who are elected from their respective districts every two years. The lieutenant governor also serves as an ex officio member.

The repeated references to Biden in Healey’s announcement is notable, coming just a week after the president historically touted his cannabis pardons and scheduling review directive during his State of the Union address.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a blog post about the new Massachusetts move. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

Vice President Kamala Harris will also be meeting with three presidential pardon recipients at an event at the White House on Friday to discuss their experiences with the executive clemency process.

The event seems to be the latest signal that the administration is hoping to appeal to voters ahead of the November election by promoting an issue with bipartisan popularity, especially among critical young voters.

The popularity of administrative cannabis reform was also underscored in a recent poll that showed how Biden’s marijuana moves stand to benefit him in November. The survey found the president’s favorability spiked after people were made aware of the possibility that cannabis could be rescheduled under the Biden-initiated review.

Back in Massachusetts, the governor also filed a bill last year to create a psychedelics working group to study and make recommendations about the potential therapeutic benefits of substances like psilocybin and MDMA for military veterans.

Since Massachusetts first opened its adult-use cannabis market, licensed retailers have sold more than $7 billion in legal medical and recreational marijuana, according to the latest numbers from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).

VP Harris To Meet With Marijuana Pardon Recipients At White House This Week As Biden Leans Into Issue Ahead Of Election

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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