Maryland pardons 175,000 people of cannabis convictions

Maryland Governor Wes Moore
Moore said the pardons would 'right many historical wrongs' [Getty Images]

Maryland's governor has pardoned more than 175,000 people convicted of cannabis offences, in a move to address "decades of harm caused by the war on drugs".

Wes Moore said his executive order marked "the most sweeping state-level pardon in American history" and "the largest such action in our nation's history".

"Maryland is going to use this moment to right many historical wrongs," he added.

Cannabis has been legal in Maryland for nearly a year, and more than half of all Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal.

The federal government is also reclassifying the drug, and President Joe Biden has twice issued mass pardons for US citizens facing possession charges.

Mr Moore, 45, a rising star in the Democratic Party, said the state had rolled out "one of the best and most equitable legal markets in the country" since the drug was legalised in a referendum.

"Legalisation does not turn back the clock on decades of harm caused by the war on drugs," he said on Monday at the state capitol in Annapolis.

"We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalisation if we do not address the consequences of criminalisation."

A 2022 state report found that, while white Marylanders use cannabis at higher rates than their black counterparts, black Marylanders were more than twice as likely to be arrested on possession charges before legalisation.

One in three state residents is black. However, state data shows that more than two in three men in prison are black.

Attorney General Anthony Brown said the "long overdue" move would effectively undo the "modern day shackles" of racial bias in the policing of cannabis.

A cannabis dispensary in Maryland
Cannabis has been legal for recreational use in Maryland since last year [Getty Images]

The pardon will forgive every low-level, or misdemeanour cannabis possession charge registered in the state's electronic court records.

The order will also forgive every low-level paraphernalia charge related to use or possession of cannabis - making Maryland the first state to pardon such offences, according to state officials.

Those with older convictions stored on paper can apply for pardons. The pardons will also apply to people who are no longer alive.

None of the people included in Monday's executive order are in jail. However, many with convictions have been denied housing, employment and education opportunities based on their criminal records.

Federal, state and local leaders in the US have the power to issue pardons to citizens convicted of crimes, restoring some or all of the rights they may have lost.

Over the past five years, people in at least nine states have received pardons for low-level cannabis convictions.

But, while pardons provide forgiveness for past crimes, they do not necessarily amount to sealing or expunging a criminal record.

According to the Washington Post, past convictions will be removed from criminal background check databases within 10 months but will remain in public court records unless there is an application for expungement.