Pennsylvania Official Launches Cannabis Pardon Program Just Before Leaving Office
Keystone State residents convicted of minor, nonviolent cannabis crimes can apply to receive a pardon from Governor Tom Wolf at no charge.
Published on December 1, 2021

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Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) is embarking on a mission to clear as many cannabis convictions as he can during his final year in office.

In a recent interview with KDKA, Fetterman detailed a new expedited program that will allow former pot offenders to petition to have their cases pardoned. Any Pennsylvania resident that has been charged with a nonviolent weed offense, including possession of small amounts of weed for personal use or distribution, possession of pot paraphernalia, or criminal conspiracy relating to cannabis, is eligible to apply for a fast-track pardon under the program at no cost.

“I’m a fervent believer in second chances,” Fetterman told KDKA, according to Marijuana Moment. “And one of the things I quickly discovered was that people’s lives were just being ruined by these silly charges… This is a plant that’s legal in many jurisdictions across America, and it’s not a big deal, but you go through your life in many cases a convicted felon, and that excludes you from a lot of opportunities. So, I developed an expedited review process that I encourage everybody to partake in.”

Despite advocacy efforts from Fetterman and Governor Tom Wolf, adult-use weed remains prohibited in the Keystone State, and as many as 20,000 Pennsylvania residents are convicted of cannabis-related charges every single year. So far, Gov. Wolf has issued 96 pardons for nonviolent weed convictions, but Fetterman hopes to convince thousands of other eligible former offenders to apply before he leaves office.

One of the governor’s pardons was for a man charged with a felony for possessing 8 ounces of weed in 1975. “If you’ve got some stupid charge like that on your record, it doesn’t cost anything to apply, and we can get that off your your permanent record,” the lieutenant governor said. “I don’t care how conservative or how liberal you are politically. I don’t think we as a society should be really damaging people’s future for consuming a plant that is now legal in many jurisdictions—and soon will be in Pennsylvania.”

In addition to their pardoning efforts, Wolf and Fetterman also hope to encourage Pennsylvania to completely legalize weed next year. Wolf has argued that legal weed sales are an inevitability for the state, and has repeatedly encouraged lawmakers to approve several adult-use bills recently introduced in the state legislature. So far, legislators have shot down these proposals, but a solid three-quarters of Philadelphia voters just approved a nonbinding resolution demanding that lawmakers legalize cannabis. 

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have had minor pot charges wiped from their criminal records in the past two years, largely thanks to expungement provisions included in recent adult-use laws. Illinois has cleared more than half a million minor pot cases since legalizing weed in 2020, New Jersey sealed 362,000 convictions within three months of legalizing, and New York and Virginia launched their own modest programs as well. California and other West Coast states are also working to expunge former cases, but these efforts have been moving far slower than newer adult-use states' restorative justice efforts.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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