Pennsylvania Gov. Launches Program To Pardon Marijuana Convictions

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf Pennsylvania Gov.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Photo: Shutterstock

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and fellow Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate, announced on Thursday the creation of a new program to pardon past convictions for marijuana offenses. Dubbed the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project, the initiative is a “coordinated effort for a one-time, large-scale pardoning project for people with select minor, non-violent marijuana criminal convictions,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Wolf and Fetterman have long advocated for the legalization of recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers legalized medical marijuana in 2016. In 2019, Fetterman embarked on a 98-day tour to visit each of the state’s 67 counties to hold town hall meetings on legalization, after which he estimated up to 70% of residents support continued marijuana reform.

“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 on Wednesday. “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.

Pardon Applications Now Being Accepted
The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons began accepting applications for the Marijuana Pardon Project on Thursday and will continue the drive through Friday, September 30, 2022. Those eligible for pardons include people with convictions for one or both of two specified offenses for low-level marijuana possession. Individuals can apply for an accelerated pardon through the one-time project online. Once a person submits their application, they will be contacted if any necessary follow-up is needed.

“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 to chaperone a field trip, or any Pennsylvanian who’s been told ‘no’ for much-needed assistance,” said Wolf. “Now’s your chance.”

Urging those with past marijuana convictions to apply for relief, Fetterman said the Marijuana Pardon Project will deliver second chances to thousands of deserving Pennsylvanians trying to improve their lives at a time when GOP lawmakers refuse “take the commonsense approach and just legalize it.”

“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,” the lieutenant governor said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf has prioritized criminal justice reform throughout his administration, making Pennsylvania a leader in pardon reform. Since taking office, Wolf has granted 2,098 pardons, 326 of which were part of an expedited review for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. In the 15 years before Wolf’s term, only 1,805 pardons were granted in Pennsylvania.

Is Legalizing Marijuana The Path To Democratic Victory In November?
Fetterman, who drew the ire of Republican lawmakers for flying a cannabis leaf flag from the balcony at his state capitol office, won the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. Fetterman believes that support for cannabis reform can be the key to Democrat’s success in this year’s general election. On Monday, he called on President Joseph Biden to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level through executive action before Labor Day, when they will both be in Pittsburgh for the city’s holiday parade.

“It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement from the campaign. “The president needs to use his executive authority to begin descheduling marijuana, I would love to see him do this prior to his visit to Pittsburgh. This is just common sense and Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support decriminalizing marijuana.”

Fetterman’s support for marijuana legalization has drawn fire from the Republican Party and Mehmet Oz, his opponent for Pennsylvania’s seat in the U.S. Senate. One campaign video posted on Twitter depicts Fetterman with a bong coming out of his head. The criticism of Fetterman’s stance on marijuana legalization comes despite Oz’s previous support for cannabis policy reform, including a 2020 interview in which he said that marijuana is “one of the most underused tools in America” and said that the country should “completely change our policy on marijuana.”

In his Monday statement, Fetterman, the former mayor of the small Rust Belt town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, slammed Oz and the hypocrisy of his current stand against cannabis.

“I don’t want to hear any bullshit coming out of Dr. Oz’s campaign trying to conflate decriminalizing marijuana with seriously harmful crime,” said Fetterman. “Are we supposed to believe that neither he nor any members of his staff have ever used marijuana? As mayor of Braddock, I made it my mission to combat serious crime. I know firsthand what real crime looks like. Marijuana does not fit the bill. It’s time to end the hypocrisy on this issue once and for all.”