Massachusetts Governor Announced Blanket Pardon for Marijuana Possession Convictions

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Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey announced on Wednesday a sweeping legislative proposal that would pardon individuals with past marijuana possession convictions. If passed, the bill would impact hundreds of thousands of people with convictions on their records.

This step seeks to eliminate the longstanding barriers these convictions have imposed on many people. Marijuana convictions affect people’s ability to secure housig, employment, and education.

Healey made the announcement during a press conference at the State House where she discussed the unfairness of punishing people for behavior that is no longer illegal.

State officials said the proposal, unveiled Wednesday at a State House news conference, would apply to all adult state-level misdemeanor possession convictions handed down before Wednesday, erasing criminal records that officials and advocates say have for years blocked residents from getting housing, finding a job, or seeking an education

Healey said she did not have an exact count of how many convictions would be forgiven if the Governor’s Council approves her blanket pardon. But the Democrat estimated the proposal could affect hundreds of thousands of people, saying she believes it is the “most sweeping cannabis pardon ever proposed by any governor in the United States.”

“For some . . . it’s something they live with every day, all for doing something that isn’t even cause for arrest today,” Healey said of a conviction. “That doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not fair. It’s unfinished business. Knowing we have the power to lift that burden, we should do something about it.”

The bill comes years after Massachusetts legalized marijuana for recreational use for people over the age of 21.

Healey’s move to wipe out all past adult state court misdemeanor convictions for possession of marijuana comes seven years after the state legalized cannabis. The pardons will be mostly automatic, she said, and could potentially clear the charge from hundreds of thousands of people’s records.

“The reason we do this is simple: Justice requires it,” Healey said during a press conference announcing her plans at the State House.

During the conference, Healey explained that after the bill is passed, the pardons would be “automatic” and that people “will be pardoned and it will be cleared from your record.”

Healey’s proposal to pardon marijuana possession convictions is meant to be not only a nod to changing attitudes toward cannabis, but also a way to rectify past injustices. The governor indicated that the move is in line with President Joe Biden’s decision to pardon those convicted of federal marijuana charges.

The White House has also pardoned people who were serving excessive sentences for using or possessing marijuana.

President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia, the White House said Friday[…]

The categorical pardon builds on a similar round issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that pardoned thousands convicted of simple possession on federal lands eligible. Friday’s action broadens the criminal offenses covered by the pardon. Biden is also granting clemency to 11 people serving what the White House called “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

In a statement the White House released Friday, Biden said “his actions would help make the ‘promise of equal justice a reality.’”

As the proposal awaits approval, discussions about marijuana legalization are taking place in other states as well. There is also talk of finally legalizing the plant at the federal level, something Democrats have promised for years, but have not accomplished.

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