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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pardons 175,000 marijuana convictions: "This is a really big deal"

175,000 marijuana convictions pardoned by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore
175,000 marijuana convictions pardoned by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore 02:59

BALTIMORE -- Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pardoned more than 175,000 marijuana convictions Monday in a sweeping executive order. It impacts misdemeanor charges for people who were found guilty of possessing small amounts of marijuana. 

More than 150,000 of the convictions being pardoned are misdemeanors for simple possession of cannabis, and another 18,000 misdemeanors are for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

"Today we take a big step in enacting the kinds of policies that can reverse the harm of the past and to help us to work together to build a brighter future," the governor said at a press conference Monday. "This is a really big deal."

Moore framed his decision as an attempt to right past wrongs in the criminal justice system.

"This has had significant racial equity undertones in it as well, in the way we have used the criminal justice system and used cannabis policy as a cudgel against communities of color," Moore said.

Baltimore City makes up about 25% of the convictions being pardoned, the governor's office said.   

"The legacy that the war on drugs has had on our city of Baltimore – and many places around the country like it – is still visceral and tangible," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said. "We still see and feel the wounds every day in the lives, families, and communities that were disrupted and destroyed. Today's action to pardon these more than 175,000 convictions is a step towards healing. For those receiving the pardons – which includes thousands upon thousands of Baltimoreans – it will be life-changing."

Moore said nearly half of all state drug arrests in the early 2000s were for cannabis.  

State officials said they are working with the court to determine the demographic breakdowns but believe Black Marylanders will be most affected by the pardons. 

"This impact is a triumphant victory for African Americans and other Marylanders of color who were disproportionately arrested, convicted, and sentenced for actions yesterday that are lawful today," Attorney General Anthony Brown said. 

Adult-use recreational marijuana was legalized in Maryland in 2022. The District of Columbia and 24 states have legalized recreational marijuana.

President Biden pardoned thousands of people in 2022 to decriminalize the drug and address racial disparities in the justice system.

Biden asked local officials to follow suit, as several states have legalized the drug.

Last month, the Justice Department proposed a new rule to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug. Marijuana is currently at the same federal level as Heroin, LSD and Fentanyl. 

What is a pardon? 

A pardon is an act of complete forgiveness that absolves an individual from the guilt of a criminal offense, the governor's office said. Only the governor has the constitutional power to grant pardons.  

The act restores the civil liberties lost as a result of a conviction, but it doesn't expunge a person's criminal record. 

The power to expunge is reserved for the judicial branch. Learn more about expungement here.

Expungement laws were adjusted in 2022 to start wiping out marijuana-related convictions if this was the only crime charged on a person's record.

How to find out if you were pardoned

People do not need to take any action to receive the pardon. They can check online or at a public courthouse kiosk to verify whether they were included in the pardon. 

If you were eligible for the pardon but not included in the mass pardon, you can apply for a pardon through the standard process here.

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