Elizabeth Hamill – September 7, 2022

Governor Tom Wolf announced last week that Pennsylvanians convicted of some non-violent marijuana offenses will be able to apply for a pardon. The application process will be open from  September 1-30 2022, and applies to those convicted of Possession of Marijuana (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31) or Marijuana, Small Amount Personal Use (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31I), who have no other convictions on their record.  Applicants can fill out a form on the Pa Board of Pardons website to begin the process.

At a press conference last Thursday, Wolf was joined by Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman in announcing the landmark program. Wolf has made pardons a priority throughout his tenure as Governor, granting over 2000 pardons since taking office, which is more than the total granted in the previous 15 years. Fetterman, meanwhile, has been a staunch advocate for marijuana policy reform and legalization, embarking on a state-wide “Cannabis Listening Tour” in 2019 to talk to Pennsylvanians of all walks of life about the future of cannabis in the commonwealth.

On Thursday, both emphasized that non-violent marijuana convictions should not be able to hold citizens back from opportunities. “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 chaperone a field trip, or any Pennsylvanian who’s been told ‘no’ for much needed assistance. Now’s your chance,” said Wolf. Fetterman echoed this sentiment, saying, “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.”

Policy advocates applauded the initiative, although some activists think the project should be expanded to include other charges, such as the use of paraphernalia. FAMM, a sentencing reform organization, expressed hope that the project could “[serve] as a model for future mass clemency projects in Pennsylvania.” The organization also noted that Wolf’s record on pardons has been a contrast to previous administrations of both parties. 

When it comes to marijuana convictions in particular, pardons could be a way to create more equity in cannabis policy. Focusing on legalization and decriminalization should be coupled with a focus on the thousands of people who have been prosecuted under prohibition in order to create the best outcomes. Without focusing on those already suffering under the years of over zealous marijuana prosecution, we cannot hope to build a future for safe cannabis use in Pennsylvania that truly serves the best interest of all citizens.