Massachusetts Governor Announces Plan To Pardon Cannabis Misdemeanors

Massachusetts Governor Announces Plan To Pardon Cannabis Misdemeanors

Calling it a “nation-leading effort,” Massachusetts Gov. Maura T. Healey on Wednesday announced her intention to take executive action to pardon misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions in the commonwealth. 

If it is approved by the “Governor’s Council,” Healey’s office said it “would be the most comprehensive action by a governor since President Joe Biden pardoned federal marijuana possession convictions and called on governors to take similar actions in their states,” and “could impact hundreds of thousands of people.”

Per the official state website, the Massachhuestts Governor’s Council is “composed of eight individuals elected from districts, and the Lieutenant Governor who serves ex officio,” and it “provides advice and consent on gubernatorial appointments, pardons and commutations, and warrants for the state treasury.”

The governor’s office said that, if approved, the pardon “will apply to all eligible convictions, and most people will not need to take any action to have their criminal records updated,” as well as “to all adult Massachusetts state court misdemeanor convictions before March 13, 2024 for possession of marijuana (sometimes referred to as possession of a “Class D substance”).”

“Nobody should face barriers to getting a job, housing or an education because of an old misdemeanor marijuana conviction that they would not be charged for today,” Healey, a Democrat who is serving her first term after being elected in 2022, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We’re taking this nation-leading action as part of our commitment to using the clemency process to advance fairness and equity in our criminal justice system. We’re grateful for President Biden’s leadership on this at the federal level and proud to answer his call to take action in the states.” 

Other top state officials in Massachusetts, including Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, hailed the announcement of the pardon.

“Marijuana laws have significantly changed over the past decade, and it’s essential that our criminal justice system adjusts with them. Governor Healey’s proposed pardon represents an important step toward righting historic wrongs, particularly around our country’s misguided War on Drugs,” said Driscoll. “We thank the Governor’s Council for their careful consideration of this recommendation and look forward to continuing our progress to make Massachusetts a more fair and equitable home for all.” 

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell applauded the “Healey-Driscoll administration’s efforts to rectify historic racial disparities, including with this proposed pardon, and President Biden’s leadership at the federal level on the same issue.”

“Convictions for simple marijuana possession – which someone could not be charged with today – have led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black and brown people and made it nearly impossible for them to obtain a job, housing, educational opportunities and more. As the AG’s Office also works to address injustice and close the racial wealth gap, this proposed pardon meaningfully moves the Commonwealth in the right direction,” the attorney general said.

Democratic House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano, meanwhile, said the “decision from Governor Healey to pardon certain marijuana convictions is the right one, as it is another step towards rectifying decades of injustices stemming from the criminalization of cannabis.”

“This announcement is consistent with the Legislature’s intent during the passage of the 2018 criminal justice reform law, which was updated in 2022 when the Legislature passed further cannabis reforms, that allowed residents to seek expungements for convictions that are no longer crimes following voter-approved reforms,” Mariano said. 

As the statements from Healey and other officials referenced, the pardon takes a cue from President Biden, who in the fall of 2022 issued a pardon to thousands of Americans who were convicted of violating federal cannabis laws.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement then. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

At the time, the president also urged governors to take their own action to clear the records of such individuals at the state level.

“In October 2022, President Biden issued a presidential proclamation that pardoned many federal and D.C. offenses for simple marijuana possession offenses. In December 2023, the President expanded that pardon to include more offenses He also issued a call to Governors to take action to pardon marijuana convictions in their states and, in the State of the Union last week, the President directed his Cabinet to review the federal classification of marijuana,” Healey’s office explained. “Governor Healey has already taken historic action on pardons. She became the first Massachusetts Governor in decades to recommend pardons in her first year in office. She has pardoned a total of 13 people to date. She also issued new clemency guidelines to center fairness and equity in the criminal justice system.”

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