Pennsylvania Officials Promote Marijuana Pardon Program Ahead Of Friday Deadline, With Thousands Applying For Relief So Far
Pennsylvanians with low-level marijuana convictions on their records have until the end of Friday to submit applications for expedited pardons under a program launched by the governor last month.
The state Board of Pardons is facilitating the PA Marijuana Pardon Project, and Board Secretary Celeste Trusty told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that they’ve received about 2,500 applications for relief so far. That’s about 300 more applications that have come in since Trusty’s previous public update last Friday.
Now officials are making a final push to get “as many people as possible on their way to a completely clear record before the governor and lieutenant governor leave office,” Trusty said in a phone interview.
Applications can be submitted up through midnight on Friday. People with certain cannabis convictions involving up to 30 grams of marijuana or eight grams of hashish are eligible for the streamlined program.
People shouldn't be held back from living their best lives because they were convicted of having or using a little bit of marijuana.
The deadline to apply for the PA Marijuana Pardon Project is September 30th.https://t.co/x2aiTyZdpu
— PA Board of Pardons (@BoardOfPardons) September 29, 2022
“We hear stories all the time about people who are not allowed to chaperone their children at a field trip, they’re not allowed to coach their kid’s soccer team—we hear about people who are unable to access loans for school aid, for things that people are really trying to just do to advance their careers advance their education—but they’re shut out because of a criminal conviction,” the BOP secretary said.
“This program is going to be able to help these people move ahead because of a past conviction for something that so many people in Pennsylvania don’t even think should be a crime and also something so many people in Pennsylvania do legally,” she said, referring to the state’s medical cannabis program.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) 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 said it would do what it can in the interim.
Fetterman, a reform advocate who chairs the pardons board, previously said that he wants to process cannabis clemency for as many people as possible before leaving office.
Trusty said that anyone who might be on the fence about submitting an application out of concern about the process should know that the “application takes minutes to complete” and the board is available to assist those with questions.
“This is something that, if you’re eligible, you should apply because nobody should be held back from doing something like getting a professional license or being able to advance their career for a minor weed conviction,” she said.
DEADLINE TOMORROW (9/30): the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project is an accelerated effort intended to help individuals convicted of minor, non-violent marijuana offenses. Applications can be filed online by visiting https://t.co/zbs8EjV1F2. pic.twitter.com/7QN8gOLlUd
— Mike Schlossberg (@RepSchlossberg) September 29, 2022
Fetterman’s vocal advocacy for marijuana reform and clemency “brought a lot of people into the conversation,” she added. “This is just something that makes sense. It’s smart.”
The state already has a separate 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.
“The deadline is September 30, so please get your application in,” Trusty said of those who are eligible. “It is so simple and so easy. And if you don’t qualify for the PA Marijuana Pardon Project, please consider applying for clemency through our traditional processes.”
Trusy, 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 last week.
Fetterman, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, said that “Pennsylvania is a place for a second chances” and the initiative “will help people get pardons quickly for stupid weed convictions” while the legislature stalls on legalization.
A poll released this 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.
Earlier this 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.
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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.