A prisoner looks out from behind bars. A bird flies in the air.

The Maryland Governor’s Marijuana Pardons is Another Missed Opportunity

In a much-publicized move, the Governor of Maryland recently announced a wave of pardons for individuals convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses. At first glance, this seems like a progressive step towards rectifying the injustices of the war on drugs. However, when we dig deeper, it becomes apparent that these pardons may be more symbolic than substantive.

While pardons for misdemeanors might make headlines and provide a sense of progress, they do little to address the real issues faced by those ensnared in the criminal justice system due to marijuana-related offenses. Misdemeanor convictions, unlike felonies, do not create the same level of civil disabilities or collateral consequences. Those convicted of misdemeanors can typically continue to live their lives with minimal disruption. They can still vote, rent apartments, secure jobs, and open bank accounts.

Contrast this with the plight of individuals convicted of marijuana felonies. These people are often relegated to second-class citizen status, living under the weight of severe and enduring consequences. They face significant barriers to employment, disenfranchisement, difficulties in securing housing, and limitations in accessing financial services. The stigma of a felony conviction casts a long shadow over their lives, one that a mere misdemeanor pardon does not begin to address.

The governor’s decision to pardon misdemeanors seems to miss the mark when it comes to addressing the deep-seated issues within our justice system. If we are serious about justice reform and truly committed to rectifying the wrongs of the past, our focus should be on those who have suffered the most—those with felony convictions.

In my work with justice reform and advocacy, I have seen firsthand the struggles of individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives after felony convictions. The barriers they face are not just legal but social and economic, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage and disenfranchisement. For these individuals, a pardon is not just a gesture; it is a lifeline that can open doors previously slammed shut.

It is crucial to recognize that while misdemeanor pardons may offer a feel-good narrative for politicians, they do not fundamentally change the lives of those who have already been minimally affected by their convictions. Real change requires bold action—addressing the felony convictions that impose lifelong penalties and prevent true reintegration into society.

Like President Biden’s pardons for simple possession of marijuana, the recent pardons by the Maryland governor are a reminder of the selective nature of our justice system’s reforms. We need comprehensive policies that address the full spectrum of consequences faced by individuals with drug convictions. This means not only meaningful pardons but also expungements, reintegration programs, and robust support systems that help people rebuild their lives.

As we applaud the small steps forward, let us not lose sight of the larger journey still ahead. True justice reform will only be achieved when we address the needs of those who have been most severely impacted. Until then, these gestures remain what they are—symbolic at best and meaningless at worst.

It is time for our leaders to recognize the difference between substantive change and symbolic actions. The lives of those affected by marijuana felonies depend on it.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash


  • Weldon Angelos is the President of the Weldon Project and Mission Green and an advocate for justice reform and a former hip hop music producer. He works to highlight issues related to marijuana offenses and supports efforts to secure clemency and expungement for those affected.

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