Gov. Tom Wolf pardoned 69 marijuana offenders. Why that matters | Tuesday Morning Coffee

March 2, 2021 7:14 am

(Image AdobeStock via The Philadelphia Gay News)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed off on 310 pardons, 69 of them impacting the lives of nonviolent marijuana offenders, whom criminal justice advocates say face a lifetime of repercussions for an offense that’s now treated no more seriously than a traffic ticket in some jurisdictions across the state.

Wolf signed the pardons last week, his office said in a statement. The marijuana offenders were included in a new state program, started in 2019, under the auspices of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, and who has been an outspoken advocate of cannabis legalization. The program speeds up the lengthy pardons process for people with nonviolent convictions for marijuana possession or paraphernalia charges.

“These pardons will give these 310 people a chance to put the conviction behind them, offering them more opportunities as they build careers, buy homes, and move on with their lives free of this burden,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office. “In particular, the nonviolent marijuana convictions-associated pardons have been expedited to make what was a years-long process now a matter of months.”

In all, Wolf has signed 95 pardons related to the expedited marijuana conviction review program, his office said in a statement.

Gov. Tom Wolf gives the 2021-2022 budget address virtually (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

In his February budget address to lawmakersWolf, a Democrat, again called for legalizing recreational marijuana, a move that he said he “know[s] has bipartisan support,” in large part because of the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue it would pump into the state’s coffers.

Republicans who control the General Assembly largely have been cool to Wolf’s plan. But last week, the bipartisan duo of Sens. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and Dan Laughlin, R-Erierolled out a legalization bill that also heeds reformers’ calls for giving a fresh start to those with an arrest record, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported.

The legislation calls for expunging non-violent marijuana convictions. It also would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Without waiting for the state act, some Pennsylvania cities have already moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.

In 2016, city officials in Harrisburg passed an ordinance that gave city police the option to file a summary citation and $75 fine, similar to a traffic ticket, to anyone caught with 30 grams or less of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia, the Sentinel of Carlisle reported at the time. The fine for using a small amount of the drug is $150, the newspaper reported.

Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, who has introduced a similar bill in the state House, has emphasized the importance of criminal justice reform as a part of any legalization effort.

“The failed war on drugs produced countless victims to heavy handed, unreasonable drug laws. Perhaps the most important aspect of this legislation is my Cannabis Clean Slate,” Wheatley wrote in a ‘Dear Colleague’ memo seeking support for his bill. “By legalizing the use of cannabis and simultaneously expunging records and releasing non-violent drug offenders from prison, the Commonwealth can do its part to repair the damage of the last 40 years.”

(Screen Capture via Business Insider)

In 2018, four in 10 U.S. drug arrests were for marijuana-related offenses, mostly for possession, the Pew Research Center concluded in 2020.

However, Black and Brown Americans have disproportionately borne the brunt of those arrests.

2020 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union found that “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates …   “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

Meanwhile, “public support for marijuana legalization has steadily increased in recent years. In a Pew Research Center survey last September [2019], two-thirds of U.S. adults said marijuana should be legal, up from around half (52 percent) five years earlier,” Pew researchers wrote. “The same survey found that 59 percent of adults believe marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 32 percent say it should be legal for medical use only. Just 8 percent of adults said it should not be legal under any circumstances.”

“It’s time for legal weed in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said in a Feb. 4 joint (pun only slightly intended) statement with Wheatley. “This is common sense criminal justice reform that will also generate billions when Pennsylvanians need it the most. It’s time to stop spending millions per year to ruin the lives of taxpayers who get caught doing something that most people don’t even think should be illegal.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
With the one year anniversary of the pandemic approaching, the Wolf administration announced Monday that it’s easing gathering limits for large indoor and outdoor eventsElizabeth Hardison reports.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Thomas G. Saylor, who’s retiring at year’s end, has announced he’ll hand the gavel to Justice Max Baer, his successor, on April 1. As provided for in state law, Saylor, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 this year, will stay on the bench through year’s end, your humble newsletter author reports.

Pennsylvania’s fossil fuel industry received $3.7 billion in taxpayer-paid subsidies in 2019, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report, citing new research. The industry continues to argue that it’s an economic boon for Pennsylvania.

The Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia is an institution for the city’s LGBTQ community, and it’s surviving and thriving, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

Migrant families held in the Berks Residential Center in Berks County have been releasedU.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s, D-Pa., office said over the weekend. The Berks facility was one of three nationwide that house migrant families and their children. Activists had long pressed for its closure. Officials in Berks County managed the facility and received reimbursement from the federal government.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two experts from the University of Colorado, Boulder explain what’s really driving the coal industry’s demise. And opinion regular Anwar Curtis takes you inside The Singers’ Lounge, a Harrisburg institution that’s found a way to keep the music alive during the pandemic.

Sen. Pat Toomey. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Pennsylvania Republicans have ‘rebuked’ U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., over his vote to convict former President Donald Trump, but fell short of actually censuring him, the Inquirer reports.
Students and parents in one Allegheny County district rallied to have schools fully reopen, the Post-Gazette reports.
House Republicans say they plan to investigate the Wolf administration’s oversight of nursing homes during the pandemic, PennLive reports.
A Lehigh County resident has been charged in connection with the Capitol riot, the Morning Call reports.
The Wilkes-Barre schools have voted to furlough up to 37 teachers, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Mass shootings have surged in Pennsylvania, with the nation facing a record high, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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Temple University will hold in-person classes this fall, WHYY-FM reports.
WITF-FM explains how the state Department of Education is tallying up the impact of the pandemic.
States are failing to prioritize the homeless for vaccines, reports.
It’s early days yet, but the Cook Political Report rates the 2022 governor’s race as a toss-up, PoliticsPA reports.
Politico looks at the state of the relationship between President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and finds it strong.

What Goes On.
Budget hearings roll on before the House Appropriations Committee today. The state Department of Labor & Industry gets its turn all day, starting at 10 a.m. All sessions are live-streamed from the House floor.
Also today:
9:30 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee
10 a.m, G50 Irvis: House Education Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia,
 holds a 5 p.m. reception at McGrath’s Pub on Locust Street. Admission runs $250 to $2,500.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’The BlogAnnie McCormick, at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, to GOP political consultant Kevin Madden, and Steve Esack, at PSERS, all of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, friends.

A Public Service Announcement.
March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. And in a state jam-packed with casinos and other ruthlessly efficient ways to part you from your money, if you or someone you love is having a problem, you can get help. The state has a Problem Gambling Hotline available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537), and a 24-hour chat services available at

Read Any Good Books Lately?
If you haven’t already, come on over and join us at the new Capital-Star GoodReads Book Club. We’ll be sharing what we’re reading, and you can weigh in on your favorite books as well. Associate Editor Cassie Miller gets things rolling with her latest read, “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, by Robert P. Jones. I’m currently reading “The Hemlock Cup,” a history of Socrates’ Athens by the historian Bettany Hughes. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already finding it compulsively readable.

Heavy Rotation.
Let’s go with a hardcore, old school jam this morning: Here’s Dee-Lite and the classic ‘Groove is in the Heart.’ For our money, this song boasts one of the Top 5 best bass riffs in modern pop music.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Carolina got past Florida 3-2 in OT 
on Monday night, with the ‘Canes’ Martin Necas scoring the game-winner.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.