Mar 13, 2024 - News

Massachusetts governor seeks to pardon marijuana possession convictions

Photo illustration of Maura Healey with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Gov. Maura Healey plans to pardon everyone in Massachusetts convicted of simple marijuana possession, a huge gesture that would clear the records of hundreds of thousands of people.

Why it matters: If the massive pardon scheme gets approved, it could remove a big obstacle for people with otherwise clean records when it comes to employment or housing opportunities.

  • Healey also sees pardons as a way to start making up for how old drug laws were disproportionately enforced in communities of color versus white communities.

How it works: The pardons would be automatic, according to Healey.

  • "You will be pardoned and it will be cleared from your record," she said yesterday at the State House.
  • The act wouldn't cover convictions for distribution, driving under the influence of cannabis or any juvenile marijuana charges.

Zoom out: It's the boldest step a governor has taken to clear old pot charges from residents' records.

  • Rhode Island automatically expunged simple possession charges in 2022, but didn't offer gubernatorial pardons.
  • Massachusetts has had an expungement program in place since 2016, but critics say it's hard to access.

Stunning stat: According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, there were approximately 8,000 arrests for possession or selling marijuana between 1995 and 2009, the year the commonwealth decriminalized the drug after a 2008 vote.

Context: Healey's clemency move is a response to President Joe Biden's call for governors to pardon old marijuana convictions.

  • Biden pardoned thousands last year of federal simple possession convictions.

The intrigue: Healey has, as the politicos say, evolved in her tolerance for legal weed.

  • Healey opposed legalizing recreational cannabis in 2016 when she was Attorney General.
  • When she ran for governor in 2022, Healey said she didn't regret her opposition, but that her stance "may have been unnecessary."
  • "Hopefully people want a governor who is willing to evolve," Healey said yesterday.

What's next: The Governor's Council, the eight-member panel that approves judicial matters, needs to sign off on Healey's plan for the pardons to happen.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more