Maryland Gov. Wes Moore issues mass pardon for over 175,000 marijuana convictions

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed a sweeping executive order Monday issuing pardons for more than 175,000 marijuana and drug paraphernalia convictions.

The mass order for low-level possession charges will be given to nearly 100,000 people, The Washington Post reported.

Moore said the decision is intended to address decades of social and economic injustice, including Marylanders of color being denied housing, employment and educational opportunities based on minor criminal records.

"We're taking actions that are intentional, that are sweeping and unapologetic," he said at a news conference early Monday.

"But there's a reason that we're being so intentional today," Moore said. "Policymaking is powerful. And if you look at the past, you see how policies have been intentionally deployed to hold back entire communities."

The order was timed by Maryland leaders for the week of Juneteenth, a federal holiday honoring the events of June 19,1865 in Galveston, Texas when the last enslaved Black Americans of the Confederacy were ordered free following the arrival of Union troops.

Moore called his pardons the “largest such action in our nation's history" as state leaders across the country have tried to address nonviolent drug charges.

He isn't the first governor to issue mass pardons over marijuana convictions, though. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy, a Democrat, issued a blanket pardon in March affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

"While the action is historic, it also represents only a step in the process to addressing the complexities surrounding cannabis-related convictions. There is much more work to be done," the governor's office said in a statement.

Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, quickly supported of the pardons.

"For decades, communities of color have been torn down by the hands of injustice and imprisoned at disproportionate rates due to discriminatory policies," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. "Today is a new day. The NAACP is proud to stand alongside the Moore Administration in celebrating this victory for progress."

National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial also applauded the governor's decision, saying the group would "encourage elected officials across the country to follow Gov. Moore's example in righting historical wrongs, and clearing a path for employment, education, housing, and for those who have been the victims of a failed and discriminatory policy of prohibition."

The Biden administration made a historic move earlier this year toward reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I drug – believed highly dangerous, addictive and without medical use – to a Schedule III, which can be lawfully prescribed as medication.

Public opinion has shifted significantly in favor of marijuana access. A Pew Research Center survey in March found 57% of U.S. adults said the drug should be legal for medical and recreational use, and 32% said it should be legal only for medical use. Just 11% said marijuana should not be legal.

Maryland officials legalized marijuana last summer, permitting adults 21 years and older to possess and use small amounts.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Maryland Gov. Wes Moore issues mass pardon for marijuana convictions