More than 3,500 people applied for pardons for past cannabis convictions as part of a one-month Pennsylvania initiative spearheaded by the governor and lieutenant governor, a top state pardons official told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.
A final push from lawmakers and advocates drove about 1,000 applications in the final day of the program alone as last week’s deadline approached.
The application window for the expedited relief program, which was facilitated by the state Board of Pardons (BOP), closed on midnight on Friday. Officials like BOP Secretary Celeste Trusty stepped up their push to encourage people to apply, emphasizing the simplicity of the process.
As of Thursday of last week, about 2,500 people had submitted applications through the PA Marijuana Pardon Project. That jumped to “just over 3,500” by the end of the next day, Trusty wrote in an email to Marijuana Moment.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a reform advocate who chairs the pardons board, told Marijuana Moment in a statement on Wednesday that the body is “thankful for everyone who applied, and hopeful for better lives for those whose pardons are granted.”
“While this effort reached a small portion of people affected by marijuana prohibition, the only lasting relief will come when our Republican legislature finally decides to do the right thing and legalize it,” Fetterman, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, said.
People with certain cannabis convictions involving up to 30 grams of marijuana or eight grams of hashish were eligible for the streamlined program.
“The number of people who applied for relief under the PA Marijuana Pardon Project highlights how critical it is for our leaders to address the harm that continued criminalization of marijuana has heaped onto our communities,” Trusty told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.
“Too many people live with the burden of a criminal record for doing something most of us don’t even think should be a crime,” she said. “Pennsylvanians from across the Commonwealth will be able to better their lives through the PA Marijuana Pardon Project— and what benefits one community member, benefits us all as a larger community.”
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Fetterman have been vocal advocates for ending cannabis criminalization in Pennsylvania and replacing the policy with a system of regulated adult-use sales. But with the legislature stalling on cannabis reform, the administration has said it would do what it can in the interim.
Fetterman previously said that he wants to process cannabis clemency for as many people as possible before leaving office.
While pardons represent full forgiveness for the conviction, the governor’s office stressed that eligible people will still need to separately petition the courts to have their records formally expunged.
Trusty, Fetterman and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) separately talked about marijuana reform and the pardon program during the 5th annual Cannabis Opportunities Conference in Pennsylvania late last month.
Fetterman said that “Pennsylvania is a place for a second chances” and the initiative would “help people get pardons quickly for stupid weed convictions” while the legislature stalls on legalization.
A poll released last month found that two in three Pennsylvania voters say they support marijuana legalization, which should be welcome news for Fetterman as his GOP Senate opponent levies attacks over the candidate’s support for drug policy reform.
Also last month, President Joe Biden and Fetterman briefly discussed marijuana policy reform during a meeting near Pittsburgh on Labor Day.
Wolf, meanwhile, signed a medical cannabis expansion bill last year, and he’s repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019.
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Last year, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through an ongoing Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses.
In the Pennsylvania legislature, a Senate committee held the last of three scheduled hearings on marijuana legalization in March, taking testimony meant to help inform a reform bill that the panel’s chairman said he was actively drafting.
Sen. Mike Regan (R), who chairs the committee, circulated a cosponsorship memo last year along with Rep. Amen Brown (D) to build support for the policy change.
Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Street separately filed a legalization bill last year, as did Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D). But neither cleared the legislature by the end of the session.