- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2024

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore pardoned more than 175,000 marijuana-related convictions on Monday, joining the ranks of mostly Democrat officeholders, including President Biden, who are taking steps to decriminalize the drug.

Mr. Moore extended the sweeping pardon for misdemeanor cannabis possession and possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia days before the first anniversary of voters in the blue state legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Mr. Moore said clemency for those convicted of low-level offenses represents an effort to right the wrongs of decades of aggressive drug enforcement policies that largely affected Black residents.

“You look at the past, you see how policies have been intentionally deployed to hold back entire communities,” Mr. Moore, the state’s first Black governor, said during an address in Annapolis. 

“We’re talking about tools that led to the mass incarceration of Black men and boys. We’re talking about tools that have led to restricted access to jobs and housing in minority communities. We’re talking about tools that have led to an eight-to-one racial wealth gap in our state.”

The 45-year-old governor — who’s been mentioned as a future Democratic Party contender for the White House — said he collaborated with law enforcement and legislative leaders to make the executive action possible.

Mr. Moore said officials want the pardon to help people like Shiloh Jordan, whose 2013 paraphernalia conviction led to him being fired as a young man from a new job.

Mr. Jordan went on to graduate from Bowie State University and now works for the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore. 

Mr. Jordan’s experience was demonstrative, the governor said, of the employment system not being built to support second chances.

The executive order makes Maryland the first state to grant pardons for paraphernalia offenses.

The governor’s office said over 150,000 marijuana possession convictions and more than 18,000 paraphernalia convictions are being forgiven, affecting about 100,000 people.

Roughly 23% of those pardoned convictions are coming from the City of Baltimore.

Maryland joins nine other states that have forgiven convictions for low-level marijuana offenses, while across the U.S., Maryland and 23 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use.

Mr. Moore’s executive order will not expunge the conviction from a person’s criminal record, and the governor’s office said the action will not result in anyone being released from prison.

Maryland courts will update their electronic databases over the next two weeks to reflect the pardons, according to the governor’s office.

Efforts to decriminalize marijuana have picked up steam in recent years.

In 2022, President Biden granted mass pardons for those convicted in federal prosecutions of low-end marijuana possession.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported last year that most people sentenced for federal marijuana possession between 2014-21 were foreign nationals arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border — a large majority of whom were prosecuted in Arizona.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is also attempting to change marijuana’s classification and treat the drug as less harmful.

The DEA put forward its proposal last month to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I drug — substances with no medical purpose that are likely to be abused — to a Schedule III drug — substances with a moderate or low potential for developing a physical or psychological dependence.

Examples of Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids, testosterone and ketamine.

A new classification won’t affect the drug’s status as a criminal substance, but it would ease regulations on the growing cannabis industry.

The DEA is accepting public comments on its proposed rescheduling of marijuana until July 22.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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