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Maryland Marijuana Pardons Add To National Total of 2.5 Million

This week, Maryland became the latest state to announce mass pardons for people convicted of marijuana-related crimes, The Associated Press reports. Under Gov. Wes Moore’s plan, more than 175,000 convictions for possession of cannabis or drug paraphernalia will be pardoned, but not permanently erased from people’s criminal records. NORML, a group that advocates for legalized marijuana, has tallied about 2.5 million expungements and pardons for cannabis convictions in recent years. “It’s also a drop in the bucket when you consider the reality that over the last 50 years or so, over 30 million Americans have been arrested at the state or local level for marijuana,” said NORML's Paul Armentanor. Pardons forgive people for their crimes. A pardon can restore civil liberties, such as voting, serving on juries and gun ownership. Expungements go further, hiding the record of convictions entirely; that can clear the way for receiving federal college tuition assistance, qualifying for public housing and allowing parents to participate in their children’s school activities, among other benefits.


Marijuana laws have changed vastly since the late 1990s,i when states began allowing medical marijuana, something most states have since done. Twenty-four states have legalized recreational use for adults, 26 have decriminalized it and the U.S. Justice Department this year moved to reclassify it as a less dangerous drug. This move gives hope to advocates in the remaining 12 states that it could be legalized there, too. Most states that have legalized the drug recently have included a way to clear convictions for past use. An expungement-by-application provision was included when Maryland’s voters approved legalizing marijuana in a 2022 ballot measure. Often those provisions require people with convictions to petition to have their records expunged, a process that can take time and require the help of a lawyer. Executive branch officials such as mayors, governors and the president can offer pardons independently, and relatively few executives have done sweeping ones like Maryland’s. They’ve done so in Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Birmingham, Ala., and Kansas City, Mo..

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