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When cannabis was legalized for adults in Maryland, the state's governor issued “historic” pardons for 175,000 people

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“We cannot celebrate the benefits [cannabis] Legalization if we don't address the consequences of criminalization,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore said Monday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI
Maryland Governor Wes Moore acknowledged Monday that legalizing cannabis “does not turn back the clock on decades of damage caused by this war on drugs” or “erase the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland in the early 2000s were for cannabis.” File photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (left) said in a statement Monday that Moore's pardon was “a step toward healing” in what he called the “visceral and tangible” legacy of what “the war on drugs” has meant for Baltimore. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Cannabis is legal for medical use in 38 states and for recreational use in 24. Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in 2022, which took effect in July of last year. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

June 17 (UPI) – Maryland Governor Wes Moore issued a “historic” pardon on Monday for more than 175,000 individual convicts of marijuana offenses, his first since recreational cannabis was legalized in the state last year.

“We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization,” the first-term Democratic governor said on Monday.

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Cannabis is legal for medical purposes in 38 states and for recreational use in 24. Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2022, which took effect in July of last year.

The governor's office called it on social media on Monday “the most comprehensive state-level pardon in American history.”

Moore's automatic pardon will expunge more than 150,000 misdemeanor possession convictions and more than 18,000 possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia convictions, including those that have died. While the pardons affect those charged before Jan. 1 of last year, they will not result in anyone being released from prison.

Despite conflicting laws and shifting opinions, states and the federal government have taken incremental steps in recent years to either legalize marijuana or reduce penalties for it. A Gallup poll from November of last year showed grassroots support for marijuana legalization at an all-time high of 70%.

In October 2022, President Joe Biden issued pardons for federal marijuana-related offenses and urged states to follow suit, calling on governors to do the same at the state level, which nine others have since done.

About 23 percent of the cases Moore has pardoned are in the city of Baltimore. Moore pointed to decades of social and economic injustice related to low-level felony convictions for marijuana offenses.

Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement that Moore's pardon was “a step toward healing” and that the consequences of the war on drugs for Baltimore are “soulful and tangible.”

“We continue to see and feel every day the scars in the lives, families and communities that were destroyed and devastated,” the mayor said. “For those who have been pardoned – including thousands upon thousands of Baltimore residents – it will be life-changing.”

But Moore acknowledged Monday that legalization “cannot turn back the clock and undo decades of damage done by the war on drugs,” nor “can it erase the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland in the early 2000s were due to cannabis.”

“I'm thrilled that what I'm signing gives us a real opportunity to right a lot of historic wrongs,” Moore said in a recent interview with The Washington Post ahead of Monday's sweeping pardon.

“If you want to create inclusive economic growth, you have to start breaking down these barriers that still disproportionately affect communities of color,” he said at the time.

In April, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agreed to reclassify marijuana, removing it from the list of deadly drugs like heroin, thereby recognizing that cannabis poses a moderate to low risk to its users.

“That doesn't change the fact that black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested than white Marylanders,” Moore said Monday.

However, the governor's office pointed out that while a pardon is not the same as expungement of a criminal record, which is an additional step, the charge still appears on an individual criminal record.

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown, a former lieutenant governor, called it a “significant day” that he said was “significant for several reasons.”

“First, it's long overdue,” said Brown, a former congressman and former lieutenant governor of the state, adding that Moore had taken “bold and decisive action.”

“As a nation, we have taken too long to correct the injustices of a system that is supposed to be fair for all,” said Maryland’s Democratic attorney general.