175,000 marijuana convictions pardoned by Maryland governor

Washington DC - The governor of Maryland issued a mass pardon of drug offenses on Monday, in a far-reaching move forgiving 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions across multiple decades.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore issued a mass pardon of drug offenses on Monday, in a far-reaching move forgiving 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions across multiple decades.
Maryland Governor Wes Moore issued a mass pardon of drug offenses on Monday, in a far-reaching move forgiving 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions across multiple decades.  © Andrew Harnik / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Democrat Wes Moore said his act – "the most sweeping state-level pardon" in American history – was aimed at addressing social and economic injustices disproportionately impacting tens of thousands of Black people.

Moore, the eastern state's first Black governor, said he intended to right the "decades of harm" wrought by drug policy that had disproportionately targeted African Americans, depriving them of access to housing, education, and employment.

Nearly half of all state drug arrests during the early 2000s were for cannabis, he said, with Black Marylanders three times more likely to be detained over cannabis-related charges than white residents.

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And while the state's population of six million is 33% Black, more than 70% of Maryland's male incarcerated population is Black.

"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 as he signed the pardons into law in a ceremony in the capital city of Annapolis.

"This is a big deal. This is a really big deal."

He said the scope of the pardons – affecting some 100,000 people – amounted to a "sweeping and unapologetic" executive action by officials looking to erase criminal justice inequities as more states nationwide ease marijuana laws.

After a state-wide referendum, Maryland legalized cannabis for adults and retail sales of the drug in 2023.

The governor said the pardons would extend to anyone with a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.

Criminal justice reform advocates react to Maryland's mass cannabis pardon

Governor Wes Moore said the pardons would extend to anyone with a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.
Governor Wes Moore said the pardons would extend to anyone with a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.  © Unsplash/CRYSTALWEED cannabis

"The data shows the deeply rooted bias in drug-related arrests and sentencing. Cannabis convictions for hundreds of thousands of people here in Maryland were Scarlet Letters, modern-day shackles," added Maryland's Attorney General Anthony Brown.

"This morning, I can almost hear the clanging of those shackles falling to the floor."

The pardons will not result in anyone being released from jail, the governor's office clarified.

The pardons were cheered by criminal justice reform activists including Jason Ortiz, director of strategic initiatives for the Last Prisoner Project, who recounted being arrested at 16 for cannabis possession.

"I was thrown out of school, denied access to my high school education, ripped from my family and my friends, and had to endure two years of isolation for a simple cannabis possession charge," he said.

"The Last Prisoner Project applauds Governor Moore [and] his administration's actions to rectify the historic racial disparities caused by cannabis prohibition."

"Today is literally the most powerful day in cannabis justice history for the entire nation. That's an incredible thing," he added.

Cover photo: Andrew Harnik / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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