Cannabis Pardons

Published: 6/17/2024

Remarks as prepared
Delivered on Monday, June 17, 2024​​​

I am humbled to be with you in the historic Maryland State House – as we make history of our own, together.

The Maryland State Constitution vests the power to pardon in the Office of the Governor – and the governor alone.

This is a responsibility I take very seriously –

And that is why this morning – with deep pride and soberness – I will pardon over 175,000 convictions related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia.  

Maryland legalized cannabis by referendum.

This administration has stood up what many believe is one of the most equitable and efficient adult-market cannabis rollouts of any state in history. 

In March, we conducted our first adult-use cannabis licensing lottery round. 

All 174 licenses were awarded exclusively to social equity applicants – and that’s the first time that has happened in our nation’s history.

And yet, we know that legalization doesn’t turn back the clock on decades of harm caused by the War on Drugs. 

Legalization doesn’t erase the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland during the early 2000’s were for cannabis. 

It doesn’t erase the fact that Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than White Marylanders before legalization.

It doesn’t erase the fact that having a conviction on your record means a harder time with everything from housing to employment to education.

It doesn’t erase the fact that people who were arrested for cannabis three – or four – or forty years ago have those convictions on their records today.

We cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization while forgetting the consequences of criminalization. 

Let’s be clear: When it comes to cannabis, rolling out one of the best and most equitable legal markets in the country is important –

But that rollout must go hand-in-hand with pardoning past conduct – And Maryland is going to lead by example.

Today’s Executive Order is the most sweeping state-level pardon in any state in American history.

And the action we take together this morning is going to directly affect tens of thousands of Marylanders. 

First: I will grant pardons to Marylanders who have been convicted for misdemeanor possession of cannabis.

Second: I will grant pardons to Marylanders who have been convicted of certain misdemeanor possession crimes for drug paraphernalia.

We aren’t nibbling around the edges.  

We are taking action that is intentional, sweeping, and – unapologetically – the largest such action in the nation. 

There’s a reason we’re being so intentional today… And the reason is, we’ve studied our history.

Policymaking is powerful. If you look at the past, you see how policies have been intentionally deployed to hold back entire communities.

We’re talking about tools that have led to the mass incarceration of Black boys and Black men…

Tools that have led to restricted access to jobs and housing in minority communities…

Tools that led to an 8-1 racial wealth gap…

To undo that kind of intentionality, we need to apply intentionality of our own.

Today, we take a big step toward enacting the kinds of policies that can reverse the harm of the past – and help us build a brighter future.

Now – This is a big, big deal. And we couldn’t have gotten here without the extraordinary partnership of our incredible lawmakers, leaders, and advocates.

I want to thank Attorney General Anthony Brown.

I want to thank Jason Ortiz and his colleagues at the Last Prisoner Project.

I want to thank Heather Warnken from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

I want to thank my team, who have been in the trenches dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” for months to make sure we get this right.

And I want to thank all of our legislators – law enforcement officials – activists – and community champions who have helped us get here. 

Partnership produces progress. 

We’ve been able to build a broad coalition because everyone understands who this is going to help.

It will help Marylanders like Shiloh Jordan.

Shiloh was convicted of a minor cannabis offense after he dropped out of college. 

He got hired after his conviction –  but he was fired his second day on the job because he didn’t pass a background check.

The only thing on his criminal record was his cannabis charge. 

But Shiloh’s story doesn’t end there. 

He took a job training course. He went back to college and graduated from Bowie State. 

Today, he works at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, helping other Marylanders find their way.

Shiloh wasn’t handed a second chance – he built one for himself, and he made it count.

But those successes don’t change the fact that Shiloh has a cannabis conviction on his record.

It will keep showing up on background checks.

Even if his conviction doesn’t stop him from achieving his full promise, it’s still going to make it harder.

Well today, we grant Shiloh a full pardon for his conviction – and he is here with us today. 

Shiloh, could you please stand?

Let me end with this: Today, we take a big step forward. But it won’t be our last.

Undoing decades of harm can’t happen in a day.

But we are going to keep up the work – and we are going to do it together. 

This is about recognizing our shared humanity.

This is about recognizing our shared responsibility.

This is about changing how both government AND society view those who have been walled off from opportunity because of broken policies.

James Baldwin once said: “The world changes according to the way people see it. And if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks – or people look at – reality, then you can change it.”

Today, we start to make that kind of change.

It’s a change that centers on how we look at one another – and how we respect one another.

And it’s going to be the thing that helps Maryland lead in this moment – and in many moments to come.