Healey: State pardoning all pot possession convictions

Gov. Maura Healey announces details of her proposed blanket pardon for simple cannabis possession at a Grand Staircase press conference joined by, from left, Senate President Karen Spilka, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, and Cannabis Control Commission Acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion.

Gov. Maura Healey announces details of her proposed blanket pardon for simple cannabis possession at a Grand Staircase press conference joined by, from left, Senate President Karen Spilka, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, and Cannabis Control Commission Acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion. STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE


State House News Service

Published: 03-13-2024 4:33 PM

BOSTON — Gov. Maura Healey’s plan to pardon all misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions will impact hundreds of thousands of people, she told a crowd at the Grand Staircase on Wednesday, and represents “the most sweeping cannabis pardon ever proposed by any governor in the United States.”

The governor had not yet filed the actual pardon recommendation with the Governor’s Council as of Wednesday afternoon, several hours after the well-attended announcement event, though she said it will “pardon all misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession on record in our state.”

Final approval power rests with the elected council, which under its rules cannot vote on the matter until at least seven days after it receives Healey’s request.

Healey said her move makes Massachusetts “the first state to take action” since President Joe Biden in 2022 asked the nation’s governors to follow his lead on pardoning simple cannabis possession convictions.

An old conviction for cannabis possession can form “a barrier to jobs, getting housing, even getting an education,” Healey said.

“For some, it’s also simply more than that, a difficult memory, a burden, something they live with every day,” she said. “All for doing something that isn’t even cause for arrest today. 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 governor said her administration worked with the Trial Court and the Probation Service in forming the blanket pardon, and credited deputy legal counsel Adam Hornstine with taking on a significant role. Multiple Governor’s Council members also told the News Service on Tuesday that the administration, including legal counsel Paige Scott Reed, solicited their input in advance.

Two council members stood on the steps with Healey for Wednesday’s big announcement — Councilors Paul DePalo and Marilyn Petitto Devaney. Devaney told the News Service she was “over the moon.”

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“People will remember her. She’ll have a legacy, this governor, for doing this. I just think it’s a wonderful, compassionate thing that she did,” said Devaney, of Watertown.

Pardon recipients will have an option to request a certificate of pardon, though that will not be necessary, the governor said.

Healey did not provide reporters a clear answer of how long it could take for criminal records to reflect the change, both saying it would be “automatic” and that “it’s just a matter of taking time to go through and update the records.”

“Remember, people will not need to do anything. You will be pardoned. And you will have that cleared from your record,” she explained.

As for the number of people wrapped up in the blanket pardon, the governor referred to “hundreds of thousands” and said the approximate figure was “extrapolated” from data.

“Not a specific number, but the number’s huge,” Healey said.

A more specific estimate was not available from the governor’s office Wednesday afternoon.

“We know there were 68,800 between 2000 and 2013 but records could be going back decades further,” press secretary Karissa Hand said.

The Northwestern district attorney’s office reported a total of 86 cases of simple possession between 2013 and 2022 that resulted in a conviction or finding other than “not guilty.” The office’s territory consists of Hampshire and Franklin counties and the town of Athol.

Healey was joined in the front row at the announcement by Senate President Karen Spilka, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, Cannabis Control Commission Acting Chair Ava Callender Concepcion, and Devaney.

Spilka called the big pardon a “critically important step” for the state, and Campbell said it would help close the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts.

“Black people have carried the enormous burden of a biased criminal legal system for decades,” the attorney general said, referencing how “a disproportionate number of those who have been arrested and convicted for marijuana possession are Black and Brown people.”

The Massachusetts mega-pardon “will inspire other states to follow,” Campbell said.

Councilor Joseph Ferreira had said Tuesday he was interested in the opinion of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, and Newton Police Chief John Carmichael Jr. spoke at the event on behalf of the organization.

“My colleagues and I are happy to stand with Gov. Healey and her administration in pardoning those whose lives were previously impacted by simple marijuana possession offenses,” Carmichael said. “Gov. Healey’s pardon provides a fair and impartial response to prior misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses, helping align these past convictions with the current laws of the commonwealth.”

For one of the lawmakers on the steps — Sen. Adam Gomez of Springfield — seeing the pardon’s announcement meant not just a realization of a policy goal, but a personal stride, too.

Gomez told reporters after the event about how he was arrested as a young man when he was “caught with ... a small amount of cannabis.” It prevented him from obtaining a driver’s license or receiving federal financial aid earlier in his career, he said.

“When I was younger, obviously we make mistakes. And then now for the first time I walk away from the podium, it feels like, as a free man,” said the senator from Hampden County.

The state’s former top prosecutor, Healey opposed cannabis legalization in 2016 along with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. On Wednesday, she referred to herself as “willing to evolve.”

“The reason we do this is simple — justice requires it,” she said.