July 12, 2024
Annapolis, US 75 F

Governor Moore Pardons 175,000 Marylanders

Governor Wes Moore today signed a historic executive order pardoning 175,000 Maryland convictions related to the possession of cannabis, including convictions for misdemeanor possession of cannabis and certain convictions for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. The order represents the largest pardon for misdemeanor cannabis possession charges for any state in the country and the inclusion of paraphernalia makes Maryland the first state to take such action.

“Maryland made history when we legalized cannabis by referendum. 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,” said Gov. Moore. “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.

The governor’s pardon follows the constitutional amendment passed during Maryland’s 2022 legislative session that legalized adult use and possession of cannabis and was overwhelmingly approved by popular referendum. Of the 175,000 pardons issued, more than 150,000 represent misdemeanor convictions for simple cannabis possession and more than 18,000 represent misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

Eligibility criteria for the pardons include:

  • Convictions for misdemeanor possession of cannabis or misdemeanor use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia;
  • Convictions for 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 judgment;
  • Charges occurring prior to January 1, 2023, when possession of personal use amount of cannabis was decriminalized.

“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 G. Brown. “Governor Moore’s pardons will remove these barriers and enable thousands of Marylanders to lead productive lives without the impediments created by their prior convictions. I thank Governor Moore for his bold and decisive action in the name of fairness and equity.”

As a result of the executive order, the Maryland Judiciary will ensure that each individual’s electronic docket is updated with an entry indicating that the conviction has been pardoned by the governor. The process is expected to take approximately 2 weeks.

Governor Moore’s 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.

“Last Prisoner Project applauds Governor Moore and his administration’s actions to rectify racial disparities caused by cannabis prohibition. Today’s historic pardon is the boldest measure undertaken by any governor and will finally provide a light at the end of the tunnel for people who are dealing with the collateral consequences of a record – inability to find housing, employment, education, or even insurance or financial products, based solely on a scarlet letter from their past,” said Last Prisoner Project Director of Strategic Initiatives Jason Ortiz. “By answering President Biden’s continued call on governors to grant cannabis clemency, Governor Moore has become a champion of cannabis justice that other governors can follow. All it takes is the stroke of a pen to right history.”

Governor Moore signed the executive order using the Last Prisoner Project’s “Pen to Right History,” a pen that family, friends, and loved ones of people impacted by cannabis incarceration all around the country have used to write letters to elected officials asking for justice. The pen is a powerful symbol to represent the real impact that legislation and executive action have to help rectify the wrongful imprisonment of victimless cannabis-related sentences. The governor’s pardon will not release any incarcerated individuals, but it is an important first step to ensuring the fair and equitable administration of justice surrounding cannabis convictions in Maryland.

Individuals do not need to take any action to receive the pardon. After the Judiciary updates the electronic dockets to reflect the pardon, a process that should take approximately 2 weeks, individuals can check online or at a public kiosk at any courthouse in the state to verify whether they were included in the pardon.

Anyone who is eligible for a pardon but who was 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. To apply for a pardon, visit dpscs.state.md.us/publicservs/pdfs/Application-for-Pardon-Revised.pdf.

“This courageous action by Governor Moore is an important piece of a much bigger puzzle of addressing the devastating drug war which disproportionately harmed, and continues to harm, marginalized Black and brown communities,” said University of Baltimore School of Law Center for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director Heather Warnken. “We celebrate this historic win and look forward to partnering with the administration on the work ahead.”

A pardon is different from an expungement. Though the Maryland Judiciary will make a note on the record that the offense has been pardoned, it will still appear on the individual’s record. Expungement is the process by which a criminal conviction is destroyed and removed completely from the public record. Individuals who want to remove a conviction from public records must file for an expungement. Learn more about filing for expungement at mdcourts.gov/legalhelp/expungement.

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