As Pennsylvania lawmakers are set to take up a new bipartisan marijuana legalization bill, the governor on Monday announced that he granted expedited pardons for low-level cannabis offenses for 69 more people.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed off on the clemency actions last week as part of the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses through the state Board of Pardons. With this latest round, a total of 95 people have had their cannabis convictions pardoned through the initiative to date.
The governor also issued pardons for 241 unrelated offenses for a total of 310 last week. He said in a press release that the clemency gives these 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.”
.@GovernorTomWolf last week signed 310 pardons, 69 of which were part of an expedited review program for non-violent marijuana-related offenses introduced by the Board of Pardons and authorized by @FettermanLt in September 2019. https://t.co/edqWj7Rzu6
— Office of the Governor (@GovernorsOffice) March 1, 2021
“In particular, the nonviolent marijuana convictions-associated pardons have been expedited to make what was a years-long process now a matter of months,” Wolf said.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a strong proponent of legalization, said he’s “proud to be a partner with Governor Wolf in our historic reinvention of second chances for Pennsylvanians.”
Brandon Flood, the secretary of the Board of Pardons (BOP), said that the expedited pardon program will soon expand to include other offenses.
“In addition, BOP is actively working with the governor’s office to develop a more streamlined review process for both commutation applicants and certain types of pardon applicants whose applications are recommended by BOP to the governor,” he said.
The clemency action comes days after after Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) announced plans to introduce legislation to tax and regulate cannabis in the state. Advocates are hopeful that it’s the bipartisan nature of the bill that will move the GOP-controlled legislature to advance the policy change.
The governor said last month that marijuana legalization is a priority as he begins annual budget negotiations with lawmakers—even though his formal spending request doesn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
The governor 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. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform.
While Republican lawmakers have resisted these calls, Fetterman has put his support centerstage, including by hanging marijuana-themed flags at his Capitol office.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment in January, he said the decor was removed this week at the behest of certain GOP members who passed a temporary budget restricting the types of flags that can be flown on government property—but he promptly put them back up.
He also said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
In September, the lieutenant governor hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from his counterparts in Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
In terms of state-level clemency actions, Wolf isn’t alone in using his authority to give people with marijuana convictions a second change.
The governor of Illinois in December announced more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level cannabis offenses on their records.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has faced pressure by civil rights groups to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.
In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.