Maryland governor pardons over 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions

(Reuters) - The governor of Maryland pardoned more than 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions on Monday, an executive action he said was aimed at addressing the disproportionate impact the state's drug policies have had on people of color.

The mass pardon by Governor Wes Moore, a Democrat, comes after Maryland residents voted in November 2022 to legalize adult use of marijuana through a ballot referendum.

"We cannot address the benefits of legalization if we do not address the consequences of criminalization," Moore said on Monday, noting that people with convictions have a harder time obtaining housing, education and employment even after they've served their sentences.

The move comes on the heels of a similar mass pardon in Massachusetts, and after President Joe Biden has issued pardons in recent years on federal drug convictions. In April, Biden's administration took steps to make marijuana use a less serious crime at the federal level.

Black Americans have historically been more than three times as likely as white Americans to be arrested on marijuana charges, according to research from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If you look at the past, you see how policies have been intentionally deployed to hold back entire communities," Moore said. "We're talking about tools that have led to the mass incarceration of Black men and boys."

The executive order pardons convictions related to misdemeanor possession of cannabis and certain convictions for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, Moore said.

Marijuana use and possession remains illegal under federal law, but 24 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana under state law. Thirty-eight states and Washington D.C. allow medical use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Editing by Franklin Paul)