Shumlin issues 192 pardons for pot possession

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. to include additional information.

MONTPELIER — Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin issued 192 pardons to Vermonters convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana, fulfilling a promise he made last month and setting a new record for pardons issued by a single governor in the state’s history.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announces his offer to pardon Vermonters convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana on Dec. 8, 2016. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Gov. Peter Shumlin announces his offer to pardon Vermonters convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana on Dec. 8, 2016. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

Shumlin, a Democrat, announced on Dec. 8 that he was offering pardons to as many as 17,000 Vermonters who were convicted of possessing marijuana before the state decriminalized the offense in 2013, making it a civil violation akin to a traffic ticket. He said the offer was intended to help create “a more sane drug policy.”

A total of 460 people applied for a pardon through a special application created by the Shumlin administration.

The governor announced Tuesday that he issued the 192 pardons after informing successful applicants. The pardons issued Tuesday bring Shumlin’s total pardons issued to 208, according administration officials. That tops the previous mark set by former Republican Gov. Richard Snelling, who issued just under 200 pardons during his tenure.

“A minor marijuana possession charge should not be an anchor that holds back an individual from getting a good job or going about their life,” Shumlin said in a statement. “While attitudes and laws about marijuana use are rapidly changing, there is still a harmful stigma associated with it. My hope was to help as many individuals as I could overcome that stigma and the very real struggles that too often go along with it. Vermont should follow the many states that are legalizing and regulating the use of marijuana and put to an end the incredible failure that is the War on Drugs.”

Shumlin signed legislation into law in 2013 that decriminalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. But thousands of Vermonters still have convictions on their record. Shumlin said last month he was offering pardons for those convictions because it is “the right thing to do.”

Shumlin said the convictions, in many cases, were prohibiting Vermonters from some opportunities, including jobs, working in federal buildings, apply to college and even serving as a chaperone on school trips. For some, the convictions have preventing them from being caretakers for family members, obtaining professional licenses or traveling internationally.

Shumlin’s office accepted pardon applications until Christmas Day. Staff from the governor’s office, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety then reviewed the applications and conducted background checks. No pardons were issued to applicants that had “violent criminal histories” or for those who have convictions for driving under the influence or reckless driving, according to Shumlin’s office.

All 192 pardons issued Tuesday were for convictions of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

The 2013 decriminalization law provided for an expungement process for misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions, but that process has been used sparingly. The pardon application offered by Shumlin was a more expedient way for Vermonters to dispose of those convictions.

“It’s a cumbersome process. It takes a lot of time. I think a lot of folks have hesitated to do it because of the bureaucracy. I’m hoping this will be a simpler one,” the governor said last month.

Those who were not granted pardons by Shumlin can apply for a pardon from future governors.

Shumlin came out strongly in favor of legalizing marijuana last year. The Senate passed a legalization bill that would have created a legal, regulated marijuana market in Vermont, but the House rejected the measure by a wide margin.

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