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Moore pardons 175,000 misdemeanor cannabis convictions

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(The Center Square) – With the stroke of a pen, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed a “historical” executive order Monday pardoning 175,000 cannabis possession-related convictions, including misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia convictions.

Moore’s office is touting the move as the “largest pardon for misdemeanor cannabis possession charges for any state in the country,” and the first of its kind.

In 2022, Maryland approved a constitutional amendment legalizing adult use and possession of marijuana. The massive pardon, through executive order, represents over 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for “simple cannabis possession,” and over 18,000 “represent misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.”

Moore praised the historic move to legalize the drug via referendum, saying the prior criminalization created hurdles for individuals convicted of possession.

“Maryland made history when we legalized cannabis by referendum,” the governor said. “But we cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization while forgetting the consequences of criminalization. No Marylander should face barriers to housing, employment, or education based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal. Today, we take a big step forward toward ensuring equal justice for all. But this won’t be our last effort. We must continue to move in partnership to build a state and society that is more equitable, more just, and leaves no one behind.”

In addition to misdemeanor possession or use, eligibility criteria for the pardons include: “misdemeanor use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia were in cases associated with misdemeanor cannabis possession and no other charges were incurred; related disposition of guilty or probation before judgement;” and charges occurred before Jan. 1, 2023, while “possession of personal use amount of cannabis was decriminalized.”

Supporters of the mass pardon say the enforcement of cannabis laws “disproportionately” impacted “communities of color” and ultimately hurt those communities.

“The enforcement of cannabis laws has disproportionately and overwhelmingly burdened communities of color. Opportunities were denied because those who were convicted faced steep obstacles to jobs, education, and housing,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown.

As part of the executive action, the Maryland Judiciary will “ensure that each individual’s electronic docket” be updated, including an entry noting conviction has been pardoned by Moore. The governor’s office said they expect the process to take approximately two weeks.

The executive order “also directs 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. This process is expected to take approximately 10 months to complete,” a release from the governor’s office says.

Moore’s office stressed that a pardon is “different from an expungement,” and the Maryland Judiciary will display the pardon on record; however, it will still appear on the individual’s record.

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