MD Cannabis Mass Pardon Is First to Include “Paraphernalia” Convictions

June 18, 2024

On June 17, Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D) signed an executive order pardoning 175,000 marijuana-related misdemeanor convictions. Over 150,000 were for simple possession, making this the largest mass pardon of those convictions by any United States governor to date. It’s also the first to pardon possession of “paraphernalia.”

“We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization while forgetting the consequences of criminalization,” Moore stated June 17. “No Marylander should face barriers to housing, employment or education based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal.”

The governorrect the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to develop a process to indicate on criminal background checks which individuals’ convictions have been pardoned pursuant to this Executive Clemency Order.

The pardons will not release anyone currently incarcerated on cannabis-related convictions. Nor do the pardons wipe the convictions from public records, the way expungement would. Rather, the records of these convictions will now be updated to include notes that they were pardoned by the governor. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will be responsible for making the pardons visible on background checks, which may lower barriers to housing and employment.

For some, it may also lower barriers to expungement itself.

“If you have a pardon, the path to an expungement is more expedited,” Adrian Rocha, policy manager at Last Prisoner Project, told Filter. “You don’t have to jump through as many hoops. It does make a tremendous difference.”

About 40,000 of the 175,000 records involve only simple possession and no other charges. For those, the pardons are somewhat redundant—they’re either already expunged or will be by July 1, under the state’s automated expungement process currently underway.

“We have to start speaking more openly about these justice reforms that go beyond possession.”

Notably, the pardons include every misdemeanor paraphernalia conviction that had accompanied a possession conviction—the judiciary located about 18,000. Only those that involved marijuana possession as the only accompanying conviction were eligible, effectively ruling out convictions for possession paraphernalia associated with other substances.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the Virginia-based group Marijuana Justice, hopes that other states will follow Maryland’s precedent in pardoning paraphernalia convictions.

“If we are talking about people really impacted, we understand sometimes those paraphernalia charges are used even more than possession,” Higgs Wise told Filter. “We have to start speaking more openly about these justice reforms that go beyond possession.”

The pardons will impact an estimated 100,000 people. Convictions for misdemeanor possession of cannabis, as well those for drug paraphernalia, are eligible if they occurred prior to January 1, 2023.

“The enforcement of cannabis laws has disproportionately and overwhelmingly burdened communities of color,” Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown stated June 17. “Opportunities were denied because those who were convicted faced steep obstacles to jobs, education and housing.”

Maryland approved adult-use cannabis legalization in November 2022, which took effect in July 2023. Possession of under 2.5 ounces is punishable by a fine of up to $250, but no jail time. Above 2.5 ounces, possession becomes a misdemeanor that can be punished by up to a year in jail.



Photograph of Governor Wes Moore on June 17, 2024, via

The author participated in a March 2024 event organized by Marijuana Justice, for which he was paid a speaking fee. Filter‘s Editorial Independence Policy applies.

Alexander Lekhtman

Alexander is Filter's staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it's actually alright. He's also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter's editorial fellow.

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