Maryland Gov. Wes Moore Pardons over 175,000 Marijuana Convictions

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore holds up an executive order he signed to issue more than 175,000 p
Brian Witte/AP

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) will pardon over 175,000 marijuana convictions Monday, in what he calls “the most far-reaching and aggressive” executive action to reduce impact from the war on drugs.

Moore, who entered office in 2023 after former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) reached his term limit, announced that approximately 100,000 people would be impacted by the pardons, according to to the Washington Post.

“I’m ecstatic that we have a real opportunity with what I’m signing to right a lot of historical wrongs,” he told the publication. “If you want to be able to create inclusive economic growth, it means you have to start removing these barriers that continue to disproportionately sit on communities of color.”

A 2022 report on racial equity by state analysts revealed that while white Marylanders use cannabis at a higher rate than black Marylanders, black residents were more than two times as likely to be charged for possession. 

Maryland residents voted in a referendum to legalize marijuana for adult use in November 2022, which went into effect when Moore signed the bill on May 3, 2023.

Despite Maryland becoming the first state in the Washington, DC, area to fully legalize the sale of marijuana — though D.C. and Virginia have decriminalized it — Marylanders who have been convicted for low-level possession crimes in the past still have that on their records. 

Derek Liggins, 57, who is among those being pardoned, was released from prison over 16 years ago after being convicted of possessing and dealing the drug in the late 1990s. 

Though he’s been a free man for well over a decade, his past has still followed him around and hindered job opportunities. While he’s held a steady job at a Baltimore HVAC construction company for many years, Liggins is barred from working on the highest-paying contracts with the federal government because of his marijuana crimes. 

“You can’t hold people accountable for possession of marijuana when you’ve got a dispensary on almost every corner,” he told the Post

He applauded the governor’s effort to help open more doors for people like him. 

“A person can change,” Liggins explained. “A person should be able to pay their debt to society and start fresh.”

Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) said the pardons are “certainly long overdue as a nation,” and called them “a racial equity issue.”

“While the pardons will extend to anyone and everyone with a misdemeanor conviction for the possession of marijuana or paraphernalia, this unequivocally, without any doubt or reservation, disproportionately impacts — in a good way — Black and Brown Marylanders,” the attorney general told the Post. “We are arrested and convicted at higher rates for possession and use of marijuana when the rate at which we used it was no different than any other category of people.”

Moore referred to the mass pardons as “the most far-reaching and aggressive” by executive officials nationwide who are trying to right what are often seen as wrongs committed by the war on marijuana. 

In March, Gov. Maura Healy (D-MA) also issued a blanket pardon that impacted hundreds of thousands of people, USA Today reported.

A Pew Research Center study from March revealed that just 11 percent of American adults believe that marijuana should be illegal in all circumstances, with the majority of respondents saying they believe that the drug should be legal for both medical and recreational use. 

“We’re taking actions that are intentional that are sweeping and unapologetic,” Moore said at a Monday morning news conference, according to USA Today

“But there’s a reason that we’re being so intentional today. Policymaking is powerful. And if you look at the past, you see how policies have been intentionally deployed to hold back entire communities,” he claimed.

The pardoning will “automatically forgive” any misdemeanor marijuana possession and paraphernalia charge in Maryland’s electronic court records system, according to the Post, though people with older cannabis convictions that came before the 80s and 90s can also apply for their paper records to be pardoned. 

The electronic records in some Maryland jurisdictions date back to the 1980s, while others begin in the 1990s or later. 


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