Maryland Governor Issues Historic Pardons for Marijuana Convictions

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In a landmark move, Maryland Governor Wes Moore has signed an executive order granting over 175,000 pardons for marijuana-related convictions. Announced during a news conference on June 17, 2024, this decision represents the most extensive state-level pardon effort in U.S. history, aimed at rectifying the long-standing injustices perpetuated by the war on drugs.

Governor Moore emphasized the significance of this action, describing it as intentional, sweeping, and unapologetic. He highlighted the disproportionate impact of past drug policies on minority communities, noting that Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related offenses than their white counterparts. This move, he said, is about changing societal and governmental perceptions and giving those affected a second chance.

While these pardons will not lead to immediate releases from incarceration or automatic expungement of records, they are expected to alleviate significant barriers to housing, employment, and educational opportunities. Heather Warnken, Executive Director of the University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Criminal Justice Reform, praised the decision as a victory for thousands of Marylanders seeking a fresh start.

Shiloh Jordan, who lost a job due to a minor cannabis conviction revealed in a background check, was present at the news conference. Jordan's story underscores the profound impact such convictions can have on an individual's life. Governor Moore acknowledged Jordan's experience and affirmed that this initiative aims to prevent similar injustices in the future.

More than 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for simple cannabis possession and over 18,000 convictions related to drug paraphernalia will be affected by the governor's order. The Maryland Judiciary is tasked with updating individual electronic dockets to reflect these pardons, a process expected to take about two weeks. The state corrections department will develop a procedure to note pardons in criminal records, anticipated to be completed within ten months.

This sweeping pardon comes on the heels of Maryland's legalization of recreational cannabis in 2023, following a constitutional amendment passed by voters with a 67% majority in 2022. Maryland is now one of 24 states, along with the District of Columbia, that have legalized recreational cannabis.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown called the action "long overdue," highlighting its importance for racial justice and equity. He noted that while the order applies universally to those meeting its criteria, it holds particular significance for African Americans and other people of color who were disproportionately impacted by past drug laws.

Governor Moore's executive order represents a crucial step toward rectifying the harms caused by previous drug policies. While it does not erase past convictions from public records, it removes the official stain of guilt and offers a path to renewed opportunities for thousands of Maryland residents. This historic action underscores a broader shift towards more equitable and just treatment of cannabis-related offenses in the United States.

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