Massachusetts Governor Announces “Nation-Leading Effort” to Pardon Marijuana Possession Convictions

Governor Maura T. Healey today announced that she is taking executive action to pardon misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions in Massachusetts.

If approved by the Governor’s Council, this 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”, according to a press release from Governor Healey. It could impact hundreds of thousands of people.

If approved, Governor Healey’s pardon will apply to all eligible convictions, and most people will not need to take any action to have their criminal records updated. It would apply 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,” said Governor Healey. “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.”

“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 Lieutenant Governor Kim 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.”

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.

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.

The Governor’s Office has developed an FAQ about this proposed pardon.

Statements of Support 

Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell: 

“I applaud 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.”

House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D- Quincy): 

“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.”

Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland): 

“An equitable Commonwealth is one where a misdemeanor cannabis conviction does not stand in the way of someone moving forward with their life with a new job, home, or education. The legislature has worked hard to expand and expedite expungement, and I am elated that the Healey-Driscoll Administration is moving to pardon misdemeanor cannabis convictions. This is the right thing to do.”

Joint Committee on the Judiciary House Chair Michael S. Day: 

“I applaud Governor Healey’s decision to issue pardons on these marijuana convictions. These pardons will allow individuals to move forward in their lives without the stain of criminal convictions for actions that are now legal. The Governor’s decision is a welcome move in our continued efforts to make our criminal justice system more equitable to all of our residents.”

Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts: 

“Because of this pardon recommendation, many people in Massachusetts may get a second chance. It means people will no longer be punished for behavior that is now legal in our state, and will face fewer barriers to housing, jobs, education, student loans, and stability. We thank Governor Healey for her leadership on this life-changing issue.”

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