Maryland Governor Pardons More Than 175,000 Marijuana Convictions

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
June 17, 2024US News
Maryland Governor Pardons More Than 175,000 Marijuana Convictions
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore holds up an executive order he signed to issue more than 175,000 pardons for marijuana convictions in Annapolis, Md., on June 17, 2024. (Brian Witte/AP Photo)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has signed an executive order pardoning more than 175,000 convictions of simple marijuana possession and certain convictions for misdemeanor possession of cannabis paraphernalia.

At a news conference on June 17, the Democrat governor described the act as the “most sweeping state-level pardon” in any U.S. state in American history.

Mr. Moore said the executive order will affect “tens of thousands of Marylanders” convicted of misdemeanors, noting some people might have more than one conviction pardoned through the process.

According to a summary by the governor’s office, more than 150,000 misdemeanor convictions for simple possession of cannabis are affected by the order, which also covers more than 18,000 misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

The pardons will not result in anyone being released from incarceration, nor will they result in having past convictions automatically expunged from a person’s background check.

During Monday’s news briefing, Mr. Moore said last year’s legalization of recreational marijuana in the state hadn’t turned back the clock on “decades of harm” that he said was caused by the “war on drugs.”

“We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization,” he said, explaining that “nearly half of all drug arrests” in Maryland in the early 2000s were cannabis-related.

He said some people with simple marijuana possession on their criminal record have been denied housing, job opportunities, and education.

Some Marylanders who were arrested for cannabis 40 years ago still have those convictions on their records, Mr. Moore noted.

Now that the governor has ordered the pardons, the Maryland Judiciary will ensure each individual electronic docket is updated with an entry indicating the conviction has been pardoned by the governor, a process that should take about two weeks, according to Mr. Moore’s office.

The order also directs the state corrections department to develop a process to indicate a pardon in an individual’s criminal record, a process expected to take about 10 months to complete.

The pardons absolve people from the guilt of a criminal offense, and individuals do not need to take any action to receive the pardon.

Both before and after he was elected governor, Mr. Moore has been a staunch supporter of the cannabis industry. In January 2023, he released $40 million worth of previously frozen funds to support the growth of the recreational cannabis industry in Maryland.

Mr. Moore, who used to work as an investment banker, declared before he was elected that he would create a blind trust for his assets, which included nearly $1.2 million in shares of stock in a cannabis company—or about 46 percent of his assets outlined in the trust. The trust legally removes him from controlling the assets while he is governor.

Recreational Marijuana Laws

Maryland voters in November 2022 adopted ballot measures allowing adult-use of marijuana, boosting the number of states where recreational use is legal for those over 21.

Maryland officially decriminalized possession of personal-use amounts of cannabis on Jan. 1, 2023.

Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under federal law, the use, possession, and sale of marijuana is still illegal, despite state laws. Meanwhile, the current U.S. legal marijuana industry is estimated to be worth nearly $30 billion.

As the use of marijuana is becoming more popular across the United States for both medical and recreational purposes, the Biden administration is taking steps to make the drug a less serious crime at the federal level.

A total of 61.9 million Americans used marijuana in 2022, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—about 22 percent of the U.S. population at the time.

Among Americans aged 12 or older, 6.7 percent (or 19 million people) had a marijuana-use disorder in 2022, SAMHSA reports.

“Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. When they start before age 18, the rate of addiction rises to 1 in 6,” SAMHSA states.

From a medical standpoint, cannabis use may help relieve symptoms for some health problems, including certain types of seizures, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and some types of chronic pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.