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Maryland Gov. Pardons 175K for Marijuana Possession

Monday’s action was one of the largest mass pardons in U.S. history. Maryland voters legalized marijuana two years ago.

The room erupts in cheers after Maryland Governor Wes Moore displays a historic executive order pardoning more than 175,000 cannabis-related misdemeanor convictions. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)
Jerry Jackson/TNS
Gov. Wes Moore issued more than 175,000 pardons for misdemeanor cannabis possession and use convictions Monday morning — one of the largest state-issued pardons in United States history.

“We’ll be clear: This is just a step — this is not a conclusion,” Moore, a Democrat, said in a interview Monday morning. “You have to be able to right these wrongs in order for the right steps to be made.”

The pardons apply to over 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for cannabis possession and more than 18,000 misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia. Moore called this “the largest such action in our nation’s history.”

Marylanders voted on an overwhelming margin to approve recreational use cannabis for adults during the 2022 general election. Cannabis officially became legalized in the state on July 1, 2023.

Monday’s pardons will not result in the release of any currently incarcerated person from prison. The cases receiving pardons for misdemeanor use or intent to use drug paraphernalia were not tied in with convictions on other charges.

Officials from the Moore administration were unclear Monday morning exactly how many people will be affected, because some individuals will be pardoned for multiple convictions.

People with these convictions can see if they received a pardon by visiting the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website, which will reflect those pardons in about two weeks. Those who are eligible but did not receive pardons can apply for them through the regular application process, which can be found on the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services website.

At least a quarter of these pardons will apply to convictions in Baltimore City. Marylanders of color, particularly the Black community, have been disproportionately represented among these convictions.

Moore said Monday’s pardons were “a hard-fought victory,” not just for those who will receive them, “but for the soul of our state.”

“Undoing decades of harm cannot happen in a day, but we’re going to keep up the work, we’re going to keep up the pace and were going to do it together. This is about recognizing our collective, shared humanity,” he said. “This is about how changing how both government and society view those who have been walled-off from opportunity because of broken and uneven policies.”

According to the ACLU of Maryland, 71 percent of the state’s prison population is constituted of Black men — the highest percentage among states across the country and more than twice the national average.

Moore said at Monday’s pardon signing ceremony that Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related charges than white Marylanders before legalization.

In a statement, Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, a Montgomery County Democrat and the chair of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus, celebrated Moore’s historic order, while also recognizing the work that needs to be done in partnership with the General Assembly to “reduce the long-term impact of criminal convictions.”

Those with criminal convictions for cannabis possession face barriers to housing and educational and employment opportunities.

Attorney General Anthony Brown said “the enforcement of cannabis laws has not been colorblind,” noting that, though Black, Latino and white Marylanders use cannabis at the same rate, Black and Latino users face higher rates of arrests and convictions.

“The shackles of slavery, though removed, left an indelible mark on our state, on our nation,” Brown, a Democrat and Maryland’s first Black attorney general, said.

He pointed to post-reconstruction-era Jim Crow laws, the convict leasing system, the war on drugs and the disproportionate arrests and convictions as “the residuals of slavery.”

“This morning, I can almost hear the clanging of those shackles falling to the floor,” Brown said.

©2024 Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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