In historic move, Wes Moore grants pardon for more than 175,000 cannabis convictions – Baltimore Sun

Governor. Wes Moore issued more than 175,000 pardons for cannabis possession and use offenses Monday morning – one of the largest state pardons in U.S. history.

“Let’s be clear: This is just a step, it’s not a conclusion,” Moore, a Democrat serving his first term, said in an interview Monday morning. “We must be able to right these wrongs in order to take the right measures. »

The pardons apply to more than 150,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession convictions and more than 18,000 misdemeanor convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia. Moore called it “the largest action of its kind in our nation’s history” during a news conference in Annapolis Monday morning.

Marylanders voted overwhelmingly to approve the recreational use of cannabis for adults in the 2022 general election. Cannabis was officially legalized in the state on July 1, 2023.

“You can’t talk about the benefits of legalization if you’re not willing to deal with the consequences of criminalization,” Moore said. “For people who are walking around with cannabis convictions, the weight of this action on them – in some cases, decades old – continues to hamper them: their ability to get a job, their ability to go at school, Their ability to start a business, their ability to integrate with their family members.

The pardons granted Monday will not result in the release from prison of those currently incarcerated. Cases pardoned for misdemeanor use or intent to use drug paraphernalia were not linked to convictions on other charges.

Moore’s pardons will also have no effect on voting rights.

In Maryland, people incarcerated for misdemeanors or detained pretrial retain their right to vote. People convicted of a crime can register to vote after serving a court-ordered prison sentence.

Moore administration officials made it clear Monday morning how many people will be affected, as some people will be pardoned for multiple convictions.

People with these convictions can see if they have received a pardon by visiting kiosks at any courthouse in the state or on the Maryland Court Case Search website, which will reflect these pardons in about two weeks . Those who are eligible but have not been granted a pardon may apply through the regular application process, available on the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services website.

At least a quarter of these pardons will apply to convictions in Baltimore City. Marylanders of color, particularly the Black community, have been disproportionately represented among these convictions.

Pardons, which can only be granted by the governor, still allow convictions to appear on an individual’s record. To have a pardoned conviction removed from a record, individuals must request the expungement from the court where the case was concluded.

Moore said the pardons were “a hard-won victory,” not only for those who will receive them, “but for the soul of our state.”

Moore signed Monday’s executive order granting the pardons with the Last Prisoner Project’s “Pen to Right History,” which has been used by relatives of people affected by cannabis convictions across the country to write to their elected officials demanding justice .

“Repairing decades of damage cannot be done in a day, but we will continue the work, we will keep up the pace and we will do it together. It’s about recognizing our collective and shared humanity,” he said. “It’s about changing the way government and society view those who have been deprived of opportunities due to broken and unequal policies. »

According to the United States Department of Justice Attorney’s Office, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, issued a proclamation in October 2022 that resulted in pardons for a large number of people convicted of simple possession of cannabis at the federal level. He expanded that proclamation late last year to include attempted possession of cannabis and certain Washington, D.C., code violations.

Moore said the sweeping pardons demonstrate to governors in other states that they have the power to right decades of wrongs independent of the federal government and that Maryland is “not afraid to lead.”

According to the ACLU of Maryland, 71 percent of the state’s prison population is black men — the highest percentage among states nationwide and more than twice the national average.

Moore, the state’s first black governor, said at the pardon signing ceremony held two days before June 19 that black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested on related charges to cannabis than white people in Maryland before legalization.

In a statement, Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairwoman of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus, celebrated Moore’s historic order, while recognizing the work that must be done in partnership with the General Assembly to “reduce the long-term impact term of criminal convictions”.

People convicted of criminal possession of cannabis face barriers to housing, education and employment.

Attorney General Anthony Brown said “enforcement of cannabis laws has not been colorblind,” noting that while black, Latino and white Marylanders use cannabis at the same rate, black and Latino users are facing higher rates of arrests and convictions.

“The chains of slavery, although removed, left an indelible mark on our state, on our nation,” said Brown, a Democrat and Maryland’s first black attorney general.

He pointed to post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws, the convict leasing system, the war on drugs, and disproportionate arrests and convictions as “the residue of slavery.”

“This morning I can almost hear the clank of these chains falling to the ground,” Brown said.

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