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Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey pardons marijuana possession convictions


Massachusetts is on the verge of pardoning people with marijuana-related convictions. State officials say it's the most far-reaching action taken since the Biden administration pardoned low-level federal cannabis offenses in 2022. From member station WBUR in Boston, Simon Rios reports.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: The pardons announcement comes 16 years after Massachusetts decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use. Governor Maura Healey said Wednesday that the pardons will remove obstacles to jobs, housing and other opportunities obstructed by weed convictions.


MAURA HEALEY: In fact, we believe that this is the most sweeping cannabis pardon ever proposed by any governor in the United States. That's because this pardon will apply to all misdemeanor possession convictions in the state courts. Those eligible number in the hundreds of thousands.

RIOS: Massachusetts joins a number of states, including Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania, that have established pardon programs for low-level marijuana offenses. Advocates across Massachusetts praise the pardons. They say it's a correction to a decadeslong war on drugs that disproportionately hurt poor people and people of color. But many say the pardons are only a first step. Weed convictions will still appear on people's records. Chris Dearborn runs a criminal defense clinic at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

CHRIS DEARBORN: You can pardon somebody all you want, but if there's still a paper trail for the conduct and there's still a stigma attached to the conduct, somebody can still find it, right? So it could still theoretically cause some impediments to progress for people.

RIOS: Dearborn says a more impactful policy would be blanket expungements for weed offenses, meaning the convictions would be erased from people's records. That would have to come from the legislature. Other advocates say the weed pardons are just low-hanging fruit. They want pardons for people with low-level drug offenses. Devin Alexander runs a cannabis delivery company in Boston. Standing at the governor's side on Wednesday, he recounted the impact of his arrest at 17 years old.


DEVIN ALEXANDER: I was driving with some friends who happened to be white. I was the only Black one in the car. I got pulled out of the car because they smelled cannabis, and they found me possessing around three grams of cannabis. And I was arrested for that. So I had plans on going into the U.S. Air Force, but those plans were quickly derailed due to that arrest.

RIOS: Now Alexander says all marijuana-related convictions should be pardoned, not just the low-level offenses covered in the governor's initiative. The measure still requires approval from the eight-member governor's council before taking effect.

For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Simón Rios