Maryland’s first black governor cites ‘social equity’ in plan to pardon 175K marijuana convictions

“Social equity” was cited as the catalyst for tens of thousands of drug-related pardons as “mass incarceration disparity” remained a focus for the “first Black people to hold their offices in” Maryland.

Monday, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) followed President Joe Biden’s lead in tempering the war on drugs less than two years after his state legalized recreational marijuana use. Leaning into both his and his administration’s racial identities, the governor signed an executive order pardoning more than 175,000 convictions.

“I am humbled to be with you in the historic Maryland State House — as we make history of our own, together. This morning — with deep pride and soberness — I will pardon over 175,000 convictions related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia,” stated Moore on X with a link to the stream of the event.

Prior to the signing, the governor’s office, aping the White House’s constant reference to Vice President Kamala Harris and the Biden-Harris administration by naming Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, released a statement that read, “The Moore-Miller Administration is committed to promoting social equity and ensuring the fair and equitable administration of justice. Because the use and possession of cannabis is no longer illegal in the state, Marylanders should not continue to face barriers to housing, employment, or educational opportunities based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal.”

While the Washington Post indicated that the pardons would not result in the end of any incarcerations, contending there were no active imprisonments to suspend, the newspaper did make a point of highlighting that Moore, along with Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D) and Public Defender Natasha Dartigue, were “all the first Black people to hold their offices in the state.”

“I’m ecstatic that we have a real opportunity with what I’m signing to right a lot of historical wrongs,” the executive told the Post. “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.”

In May, a blanket pander followed a blanket pardon from Biden who’d cleared cases of “simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law,” in December before Attorney General Merrick Garland submitted a proposal to the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, easing federal restrictions.

The Post cited Brown as saying of Moore’s pardons, “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.”

“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,” he added.

Kevin Haggerty

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