The Lead

More than 2,500 apply for pardon under Pa. marijuana pardon project

By: - September 28, 2022 3:02 pm

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman testifies at a House and Senate Democratic joint Policy Committee hearing on marijuana legalization.

More than 2,500 Pennsylvanians with minor, nonviolent marijuana criminal convictions have applied for a pardon under a new program launched by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman this month.

And the deadline to apply to the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project, a one-time, large-scale pardon effort through the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, is Friday. Applying is free and available online. 

Officials estimate that thousands of people are eligible to apply for a pardon for decades-old convictions.

“Pennsylvanians convicted of simple marijuana charges are automatically disqualified for so many life opportunities: jobs, education, housing, special moments with family. This is wrong,” Wolf said in a statement on Wednesday. “In Pennsylvania, we believe in second chances. I’m urging those eligible to apply now. Don’t miss your chance to forge a new path.”

Anyone with a conviction for possession of marijuana or a small amount for personal use to apply is eligible to apply. There is no age requirement. While a pardon grants complete forgiveness, those pardoned will still need to petition the court for an expungement of the conviction from their record.

People ineligible to apply due to an additional criminal conviction may apply for clemency using a standard application.

“Good people are being held back from living their best lives because of some old nonviolent weed charge,” Fetterman said. “Now is the time to apply because we have no idea how long the Legislature will continue refusing common sense legalization.”

Wolf and Fetterman have called on the Republican-controlled General Assembly to advance the legalization of adult-use marijuana, touting it as an opportunity for criminal justice reform and an additional revenue source for the commonwealth.

State Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, introduced legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana last year. However, their bill has yet to move out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, who conducted a series of hearings on legalization earlier this year.

Regan announced plans in October 2021 for a bill legalizing marijuana for those 21 and older and to use projected revenue to fund Pennsylvania State Police and community programs. State Rep. Amen Brown, D-Philadelphia, has also proposed legalization.

However, GOP legislative leadership has long opposed legalizing adult-use marijuana.

When it was announced at the beginning of September, Jason Gottesman, a House GOP spokesperson, said the program “reeks of 11th-hour desperation from an administration in search of a legacy.”

“This literal get-out-of-jail-free card is outside the normal scope of the pardons process, lacks serious oversight, and does even more to pick winners and losers in the criminal justice reform process,” he said. “Instead of granting hyper-light speed pardons based on what they wish the law to be, they instead should work with the Legislature on real reform, not a sideshow for a major office candidate.”

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