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Pennsylvania Governor Announces Month-Long Marijuana Pardon Project To Expedite Relief



The governor of Pennsylvania launched a month-long marijuana pardon project on Thursday to expedite relief for people with low-level cannabis convictions on their records.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) said that thousands of Pennsylvanians will be eligible for relief through the PA Marijuana Pardon Project, which will be facilitated by the state Board of Pardons.

While the legislature has so far failed to enact cannabis legalization despite calls for reform by the top state officials, the Wolf-Fetterman administration has made a point of working to resolve the collateral consequences of marijuana-related convictions—and this is the latest iteration.

“I have repeatedly called on our Republican-led General Assembly to support the legalization of adult-use marijuana, but they’ve yet to meet this call for action from myself and Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said in a press release. “Until they do, I am committed to doing everything in my power to support Pennsylvanians who have been adversely affected by a minor marijuana offense on their record.”

From September 1-30, the Board of Pardons will accept applications for accelerated relief from those with certain cannabis convictions involving up to 30 grams of marijuana or eight grams of hashish.

“Nobody should be turned down for a job, housing, or volunteering at your child’s school because of some old nonviolent weed charge, especially given that most of us don’t even think this should be illegal,” Fetterman, a legalization advocate who chairs the pardons board, previously said that he wants to process cannabis clemency for as many people as possible before leaving office.

There’s already a process through which people can get their marijuana records cleared that the officials have routinely promoted, but the PA Marijuana Pardon Project is a one-time opportunity to expedite clemency for select offenses. People can submit application regardless of when the conviction took place.

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.

“This pardon project has the potential to open the door for thousands of Pennsylvanians— the college grad looking to start their career, the grandparent who’s been wanting chaperone a field trip, or any Pennsylvanian who’s been told ‘no’ for much needed assistance,” Wolf said. “Now’s your chance.”

While Democratic legislators in the state largely praised the announcement, Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R), slammed the move, saying it amounts to a “literal get out of jail free card” that 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.”

“Ultimately, it reeks of 11th hour desperation from an administration in search of a legacy,” he added. “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.”

That last line is a reference to Fetterman, who is also running for U.S. Senate and has pledged to to push for an end to federal marijuana prohibition if he’s elected.

This week, Fetterman called on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to federally decriminalize cannabis—a topic he plans to discuss directly with the president when he visits Pittsburgh for a Labor Day parade on Monday. The White House was asked about the official’s request, but said that the administration has nothing new to announce at this point.

And although a majority of Pennsylvanians (58 percent) support legalization according to the most recent polling, his Republican gubernatorial opponent known best as Dr. Oz has attacked the official over his cannabis advocacy.

That’s in spite of the fact that, in 2020, Mehmet Oz himself called marijuana “one of the most underused tools in America” and said that the country should “completely change our policy on marijuana.”

Critics, including far-right provocateur Ann Coulter and former U.S. House Speaker New Gingrich, have also taken issue with a cannabis-themed flag that the lieutenant governor hung over his office balcony in Harrisburg. (Coulter falsely suggested that Fetterman deleted a tweet showing him holding the flag in a recent blog post.)

Prior to Wolf endorsing marijuana legalization, Fetterman also led a statewide listening tour to hear what residents had to say about the policy proposal. He touted his role in that tour on his Senate campaign website.

He also talked about his work to “legalize weed for jobs, justice, veterans, farmers and revenue” in a fundraising email early this year.

Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state could grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—and that was one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.

In 2020, he hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill last year, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019.

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.

The race for Pennsylvania governor has also put cannabis policy in the spotlight, with the pro-reform Democratic nominee Attorney General Josh Shapiro competing against the aggressively anti-legalization Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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