Pennsylvanians can seek pardons for low-level pot convictions

Brooke Schultz
The Associated Press/Report For America

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvanians with minor, nonviolent marijuana criminal convictions could be pardoned beginning Thursday in a period until the end of the month under a joint effort from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

The so-called “one-time, large-scale pardon effort” will allow anyone who has been convicted of possession of marijuana or small amount of personal use to apply. There is no limit for the age of conviction.

The application is free, and entirely online at www.pa.gov/guides/mj-pardon/.

Who benefits: Officials estimate that thousands of Pennsylvanians are eligible due to convictions over the past several decades.

“It’s a good example of Gov. Wolf and Lt. Gov. Fetterman doing everything they can from the executive office on this issue,” said Chris Goldstein, NORML’s Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware regional organizer. “This is, as much as they can do, it’s still really limited.”

Last year, he said, 13,000 people who were arrested for marijuana use could potentially benefit from this pardon effort.

“This one month window, I hope this works, but there could be hundreds of thousands of people that apply,” he said.

The window for the pardon effort is limited by Gov. Wolf’s remaining tenure. Having

Sept. 30 as the cut-off date allows the applications to be reviewed at the Board of Pardons’ October meeting.

Stalled in Legislature: In a statement, Wolf said he has called on the Republican-

controlled Legislature to support the legalization of adult-use marijuana.

An effort from Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin of Erie County so far has not advanced.

“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,” Wolf said.

Opponents panned it for “cav(ing) to their political base.”

“This literal get out of jail free card is outside the normal scope of the pardons process, lacks serious oversight, and does even more to pick winners and losers in the criminal justice reform process,” said Jason Gottesman, Pennsylvania’s House Republican Caucus spokesperson.

The executive director for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said that they learned of the initiative the day it was announced.

“With the understanding that individuals who have convictions for other crimes will not be eligible under this process, we plan — like many other groups — to follow this closely in the weeks to come,” Greg Rowe said.

— Brooke Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.