President Joe Biden recently pardoned thousands of people convicted of certain marijuana-related crimes. In making the announcement, Biden said “too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.”
“The biggest impact that Biden's pardons accomplish is that people are no longer going to suffer the adverse consequences of old convictions,” said Patty DeJuneas, a clemency and parole lawyer in Boston. “It'll be easier to find a job, to find housing and all sorts of other benefits that that we enjoy as people who've never been incarcerated.”
The number of federal convictions has slowed dramatically in recent years, still, thousands could be impacted by Biden's decision to pardon those convicted of simple possession and use of marijuana on federal lands or in the District of Columbia. Biden urged governors to do the same for state offenses.
In Massachusetts, those impacted are waiting for such action.
Last year then-gubernatorial candidate Maura Healey promised that if elected she would issue pardons for state convictions for “simple marijuana possession.” But so far Gov. Healey has not followed through. For now, under current state law, former defendants can apply to have their record expunged and action by a court must be taken within 30 days.
Asked for comment by GBH News, a spokesperson for the governor said she still intends to take steps to pardon those who have simple marijuana possession convictions on their state records.
"The plan is under development at this time," said spokesperson Karissa Hand.
Thousands of people convicted under prior Massachusetts law could be impacted by any sweeping state pardon. According to a report from by state’s Cannabis Control Commission, between 2000 and 2013 more than 68,000 people were convicted for possession of marijuana in Massachusetts.
“If you've been convicted of simple possession in the past, it could appear on a background check, blocking them from getting a job. It can impact your ability to sign an apartment lease, winning custody cases, even getting into college. So expungement could help with all of these things,” said Aaron Steinberg with the nonprofit Prisoners Legal Services.
Still, a sweeping pardon might not be so “cut and dry” in Massachusetts. Steinberg said there might be legal hurdles beyond Healey’s control, including the consent of the Governor’s Council, an elected state body that provides advice and consent on matters including pardons.
“But it would make sense considering, you know, the electorate has chosen to legalize recreational marijuana,” said Steinberg.
And ultimately, he said, a sweeping state pardon would help people “successfully reintegrate back into the community.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of government body that would need to consent to a statewide pardon in Massachusetts.