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Wolf starts process to pardon lower level marijuana convictions

Wolf starts process to pardon lower level marijuana convictions
Wolf starts process to pardon lower level marijuana convictions 02:51

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - Thousands of Pennsylvanians convicted of minor marijuana charges may be eligible for a pardon from Gov. Tom Wolf.

As KDKA political editor Jon Delano explains, it's part of a new program announced Thursday to accelerate the pardon process for marijuana convictions.

It's called the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project, a joint effort by Wolf, who can issue pardons, and Lt. Gov. Fetterman, who chairs the board of pardons and the Pardons Board that recommends pardons. The goal is to make it easier for those with non-violent, minor marijuana convictions to get a pardon.

"The majority of people of Pennsylvania, it was found, support legalization for marijuana and disagree that this should be an actual crime.  So we're trying to do everything we can to really support second chances for people who are burdened with a criminal conviction," says Celeste Trusty, secretary of the Board of Pardons.

The marijuana convictions eligible for the expedited pardon are narrow: possession or personal use of a small amount of cannabis under 30 grams, with no other criminal convictions at all,

But it still could help many, says Christina Kauffman, chief of staff to Fetterman.

Delano: "How many people in Pennsylvania have these kinds of convictions?"

Kauffman: "We know that there are tens of thousands."

Former prosecutor and marijuana defense attorney Patrick Nightingale supports the program but worries it won't help as many as it should. Why? Because marijuana users often get charged with a paraphernalia charge, he says, which are not covered by this pardon project.

"Paraphernalia when it comes to marijuana can include rolling papers, a blunt wrapper, obviously a bowl, a grinder and even the plastic baggie, the sandwich baggie, a small amount of marijuana may be contained in," says Nightingale.

With that or any other criminal conviction, you will not be eligible for the expedited pardon.

Trusty says those who are eligible, however, can expect a very quick review and consideration instead of the normal two- to three-year process.

"With the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project, the scope is narrowed because we have a short amount of time to get this accomplished before Governor Wolf leaves office," says Trusty.

Online applications will be accepted this month.  The governor has until he leaves office on Jan. 17 to issue pardons, a way, says Kauffman, to correct a wrong the legislature has not yet corrected.  

"We spend a lot of money essentially charging people with something most of us don't even think should be illegal," Kauffman says. "We need to do something about this and quickly."

Trusty at the Board of Pardons says unlike traditional pardons, the paperwork is minimal and easy to do online, but time is short.

"It starts today and goes through the end of September. The goal is to get as many qualifying folks through the process and to the governor's desk as possible before he leaves office. And so we have a very shortened timeframe for this project," says Trusty.

The Board of Pardons will review applications in October, hold hearings in some cases in the fall and then make recommendations to the governor in December.

Nightingale supports the program but worries it is not broad enough because any other conviction disqualifies you.

"My concern is that it does not include paraphernalia," he says. "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."

A conviction for paraphernalia or any other crime will disqualify you from the expedited program, so it's not clear yet how many will benefit.

New expedited pardon process for low-level marijuana convictions will help some but not all 03:01
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