Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced a joint effort Thursday to pardon many people convicted with non-violent marijuana offenses. The large-scale project, called the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project, will allow people with select convictions to submit an application online for an official pardon from the state.
The website will allow Pennsylvanians to submit applications between Sept. 1, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2022. The reason for the expedited timeline is the expiration of Wolf's term, which will end when the new gubernatorial candidate is sworn into office on Jan. 17, 2023.
According to a press release on the project, Wolf has granted 2,098 pardons since taking office, 326 of which were part of an "expedited review for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses." This is in contrast to the 1,805 total pardons that were granted in the 15 years prior to Gov. Wolf's time in office, the release said.
"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 the 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."
Those eligible must have been convicted on either "Possession of Marijuana" or "Marijuana, Small Amount Personal Use" charges for an amount, CBS Pittsburgh reported. The conviction has to have taken place in the state of Pennsylvania, and while there is no age limit on the conviction, only those without additional convictions on their record are eligible to apply. The release estimates that thousands of people will be eligible.
After Pennsylvanians submit their online application, the Board of Pardons will conduct a merit review, after which those granted approval will have a public hearing were the Board will vote on which applications to send for a pardon, the release said. Those selected will be sent to Wolf for pardons after Dec. 16. If the Governor grants those pardons, those selected will still need to petition the court to get the convictions expunged from their records.
"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 — who is currently running against Dr. Mehmet Oz for a Senate seat — said in the release.
However, some are concerned that the criteria for the pardon is too narrow. Former prosecutor and marijuana defense attorney Patrick Nightingale told CBS Pittsburgh that he's concerned the eligible convictions do not include the use of paraphernalia, which can include grinders, rolling papers, smoking devices, and even plastic baggies.
"In my experience, I have not often seen someone charged solely with a small amount of marijuana and prosecuted to conviction solely on a small amount of marijuana. I usually see that paraphernalia charge tacked on with it," Nightingale said.
Studies have shown that marijuana charges disproportionally impact communities of color. Black people are 3.6 times more likely than White people to be arrested on cannabis-related charges, though both used marijuana in similar quantities, according to the American Medical Association.
While more than 20 states have passed laws to expunge or seal marijuana-related records, according to the AMA, that's only a fraction of the 38 US states, two territories, and Washington, DC that have legalized medical marijuana use. Nineteen have legalized recreational use as well, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In July, Congressmen Troy A. Carter, Sr., a Democrat, and Rodney Davis, a Republican, introduced bipartisan legislation called the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act, which would "create an expungement mechanism for low-level violations of federal marijuana law and provide an expedited, orderly process that clears the deck of non-felony marijuana offenses lingering in the federal system," according to a press release.
It is unclear when the act will be debated.
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