The Lead

Pennsylvanians with minor cannabis convictions can apply for an expedited pardon

By: - October 2, 2019 4:36 pm

From left: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Gov. Tom Wolf, and Pardons Sec. Brandon Flood (Capital-Star photo).

Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons will expedite applications from people with low-level cannabis-related convictions, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday.

The announcement comes less than a week after Wolf said for the first time he backs legalizing cannabis for recreational adult use.

Bolstered by a 67-county tour and report on public support compiled by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Wolf also called on the Legislature to decriminalize cannabis possession — reducing a misdemeanor to a summary offense punishable by a fine — and to expunge the records of people previously convicted of such crimes.

Wednesday’s announcement was described by Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood as a “stopgap” measure.

“A [decriminalization] bill would help our agency tremendously,” Flood said.

While it takes on average two-and-a-half years for a case to move through the pardons system, Flood said marijuana-related applications will be considered within a year.

Pennsylvania’s landmark Clean Slate legislation does qualify some cannabis convictions for automatic sealing. But as Flood noted, a conviction must be 10 years old to qualify.

Flood said non-violent convictions for small-amount marijuana possession and possession of marijuana paraphernalia will be considered through the expedited process. Felony convictions for marijuana possession will also be considered, though Flood stressed that there are no guarantees the application will be approved.

“I want to emphasize that while we cut down on the red tape for pardons, these cases are not being rubber stamped,” Wolf said from the Capitol on Wednesday. “I read each recommended case individually and weigh the decision very, very carefully. I factor in the effect a pardon will have on past victims and the likelihood to reoffend. But I also weigh the consequences of people continuing to carry a record when they have turned their lives around.”

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania began waiving the application fees for a pardon, making it free.

The process involves filling out an application, an interview with a state parole agent, review by the board, and a hearing in Harrisburg that ends with a vote. Wolf, as governor, has ultimate say over whether a pardon is granted.

“Minor cases should not carry life sentences,” Wolf said Wednesday.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.