Massachusetts Governor to Pardon Thousands of People With Marijuana Convictions

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
March 14, 2024US News
Massachusetts Governor to Pardon Thousands of People With Marijuana Convictions
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey in Boston, Mass., on Nov. 30, 2022. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has unveiled sweeping executive action that would pardon everyone in the state convicted of simple marijuana possession.

In a statement on March 13, the Democrat governor described the act as a “nation-leading” effort that could impact the lives of “hundreds of thousands” of people.

If approved by the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, Ms. Healey’s pardons will forgive all adult Massachusetts state court misdemeanor convictions for possession of marijuana before March 13, 2024.

She also noted that the pardons would apply to those arrested as far back as the 1970s war on drugs and earlier.

The action will not apply to those who have been convicted of selling marijuana or other marijuana-related offenses such as operating a motor vehicle under the influence. Neither does it cover convictions from jurisdictions outside Massachusetts, including federal court.

“Nobody should face barriers to getting a job, housing, or an education because of an old misdemeanor marijuana conviction that they would not be charged for today,” Ms. Healey said.

“We’re taking this nation-leading action as part of our commitment to using the clemency process to advance fairness and equity in our criminal justice system,” she added.

Ms. Healey also pointed out that the pardons will be automatic, explaining most people will not need to take any action to have their criminal records updated.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved the legalization of recreational cannabis—a controlled substance outlawed at the federal level—with more than 53 percent voting in favor.

As the state’s attorney general, Ms. Healey opposed legalizing recreational cannabis because she was concerned about the impact it would have on young people and the potential for addiction.

This week’s announcement comes after President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of Americans in October 2022 who were convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession on the federal level or in the District of Columbia, a step he urged governors across the country to follow for state-level marijuana possession charges.

“We’re grateful for President Biden’s leadership on this at the federal level and proud to answer his call to take action in the states,” Ms. Healey said in her March 13 announcement.

A slew of Democrats praised Ms. Healey’s massive pardon announcement.

“The decision from Governor Healey to pardon certain marijuana convictions is the right one, as it is another step towards rectifying decades of injustices stemming from the criminalization of cannabis,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D- Quincy).

“I am elated that the Healey-Driscoll Administration is moving to pardon misdemeanor cannabis convictions,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland).

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, a Democrat, also said she supports Ms. Healey’s effort, saying convictions for simple marijuana possession can have lifelong consequences.

“Convictions for simple marijuana possession—which someone could not be charged with today—have led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people and made it nearly impossible for them to obtain a job, housing, educational opportunities, and more,” she said.

There were close to 69,000 civil or criminal violations for marijuana possession issued in Massachusetts from 2000 through 2013, according to a report by the Cannabis Control Commission, the panel charged with administering the legal cannabis market in Massachusetts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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