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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pardons 175K+ marijuana convictions

<i>WBAL via CNN Newsource</i><br/>In sweeping and historic action
WBAL via CNN Newsource
In sweeping and historic action

By Greg Ng & David Collins

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    ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (WBAL) — In sweeping and historic action, Gov. Wes Moore pardoned more than 175,000 marijuana convictions in Maryland.

The governor symbolically used a pen from the Last Prisoner Project to sign the executive order on Monday morning. The order includes pardons for more than 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for simple possession of cannabis, as well as for more than 18,000 misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

To put the enormity of the pardon in perspective, the number of people impacted would twice fill M&T Bank Stadium.

“Today, we take a big step enacting the kinds of policies that can reverse the harm of the past and to help us to work together to build a brighter future,” Moore said. “This is a big deal. This is a really big deal.”

The governor’s office said the pardons will not result in individuals being released from incarceration.

Pardons come post-legalization of recreational marijuana The pardons will impact those charges that occurred before Jan. 1, 2023, when possession of personal use amount of cannabis was decriminalized.

“We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization,” Moore said. “That rollout (of legalization) must go hand in hand with pardoning past conduct, and Maryland is going to lead by example.”

The action is the largest state pardon to date and the pardons on paraphernalia makes Maryland the first in the nation to take such action, according to the governor’s office.

“In this moment, we’re prepared to make our own history together,” Moore said Monday morning. “I will pardon these convictions related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia.”

After President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon of federal marijuana convictions in 2022, he called on governors to do the same at the state level. That same year, Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana statewide, which took effect July 1, 2023.

Nine other states have made similar moves. The state-level action is rivaled only by one other state, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Governor: Pardons promote social equity, fairness The governor’s office said the action promotes social equity and ensures the fair and equitable administration of justice, citing how the use and possession of cannabis is no longer illegal in Maryland.

“Maryland is going to use this moment to right many historical wrongs,” Moore said.

“Maryland is going to use this moment to right many historical wrongs.”

“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,” Maryland Attorney General Anthony said.

The governor pointed to Marylanders who continue to face barriers to housing, employment or educational opportunities based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal.

“We know that legalization does not turn back the clock on decades of harm that was caused by this war on drugs. Legalization does not erase the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland during the early 2000s were for cannabis. It doesn’t erase the fact that black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested than white Marylanders,” Moore said.

“Today’s announcement is significant for several reasons. First, it’s 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. Yet within an unprecedented timeframe, governor, you took bold and decisive action,” Brown said. “Today is a momentous day for Maryland.”

“Maryland bears a sad distinction: We incarcerate Black men at the highest levels in the nation.”

Baltimore City makes up about 23% of the convictions that are being pardoned, which is far in excess of its proportional representation in the state.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement, saying, in part: “The legacy that the war on drugs has had on our city of Baltimore – and many places around the country like it – is still visceral and tangible. We still see and feel the wounds every day in the lives, families, and communities that were disrupted and destroyed. Today’s action to pardon these more than 175,000 convictions is a step towards healing. For those receiving the pardons – which includes thousands upon thousands of Baltimoreans – it will be life-changing.”

The governor and attorney general said Black Marylanders are more likely to suffer the effects of these convictions.

“As the governor said, there is more work to do. Maryland bears a sad distinction: We incarcerate Black men at the highest levels in the nation — 71% of our prison population is Black, yet we’re only 31% of Maryland’s overall population. It’s another alarming racial disparity and one of my top priorities,” Brown said.

Total convictions by county

Allegany: 2,268 Anne Arundel: 11,926 Baltimore City: 39,865 Baltimore County: 22,298 Calvert: 3,086 Caroline: 1,510 Carroll 2,638 Cecil: 2,664 Charles 4,906 Dorchester: 3,751 Frederick: 6,097 Garrett: 2,208 Harford: 7,197 Howard: 5,004 Kent: 1,523 Montgomery: 11,606 Prince George’s: 21,080 Queen Anne’s: 3,093 St. Mary’s: 3,060 Somerset: 1,333 Talbot: 2,319 Washington: 3,491 Wicomico: 3,966 Worcester: 8,199 Public reaction was strong.

“It’s great as long as it’s not a lot of marijuana — a little bit, yes. They can get a job without that conviction just for a small amount of marijuana. If it were a lot, that would be a different story,” said Mary James, of Baltimore.

Video below: Watch the governor’s news conference in its entirety

“There are dispensaries all over the place. It’s legal now in the state,” said Parker Smith, of Baltimore.

“It is a good thing. People deserve better, people deserve forgiveness,” said Jake Binstock, of Baltimore.

What happens next? The governor’s office said individuals may have had more than one conviction pardoned through this process, which is expected to take about two weeks for the judiciary to update electronic court records. It will take about 10 months for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to develop a process to indicate on an individual’s criminal record that the conviction was pardoned pursuant to the pardon order.

While eligible individuals don’t need to take action to receive the pardon, some who were not included in the mass pardon may apply for a pardon through the regular application process — as may be the case for individuals whose convictions pre-date electronically available record formats.

Pardon doesn’t mean expungement from records The action of a pardon is not the same as an expungement, the governor’s office explained. The charge will still appear on an individual’s record as an offense that has been pardoned. Those who wish to have their record expunged must take an extra step.

Legal experts said the governor’s pardon means people can now check “no” on applications for jobs, among other things. However, it’s up to the courts to expunge records, and not everyone will be eligible. Under Maryland law, people in violation of probation are not permitted to seek expungement.

“Any probation violation, no matter how small, including decades-old small amounts of cannabis, now legal cannabis, permanently bars Marylanders from expunging their convictions,” Heather Warnken, executive director of the University of Baltimore’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform.

In addition to support from the public and the Last Prisoner Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland applaud the governor’s action.

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