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Pennsylvania’s Marijuana Pardon Project Had the Potential to Help Thousands but Fell Short

by Jo Ellen Nott

On December 1, 2022, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons made decisions on the 2,600 applications it received under Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s PA Marijuana Pardon Project available during September 2022. The program’s aim was a “one-time, large-scale pardoning project for people with select minor, non-violent marijuana criminal convictions,” according to Governor Wolf’s website. 

More than 3,500 applications were received, but the Board denied over 2,000 for not meeting program requirements – 434 will be held for possible action at a future date, and 231 were approved to move onto a final vote on December 16, 2022.  Any of the cases that make it through the December round will go to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

A spokesperson for Wolf explained that in some cases an individual submitted multiple applications because they had more than one marijuana conviction.  The total number of unique people who applied for clemency under the program was just over 2,600 out of the 3,500 plus received.

The program only allowed individuals who were convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana to apply and excluded anyone who had any additional criminal convictions on their record. Pennsylvanians eligible for the opportunity to be pardoned were those with one or both of the following convictions: 

Possession of Marijuana (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31)   

Marijuana, Small Amount Personal Use (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31I) 

Advocates for the decriminalization of weed said the program’s strict requirements limited its potential effectiveness.  They point out that a cannabis consumer frequently gets multiple convictions when arrested for the first time.  Chris Goldstein, a regional organizer for NORML, points out that an applicant would have to have led a police-free life other than that one marijuana arrest to qualify.  Goldstein also said the program’s short window of time to apply after the Governor’s announcement on September 1, 2022, was not ideal. 

Goldstein noted that more than 13,000 people were arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana in 2021 in Pennsylvania.  Of those, approximately 10 percent were convicted.  Most of the cases were dismissed or pled out. 

The 231 people who will be pardoned in December 2022 will have fewer barriers to find housing and employment with the pardon certificate in their hands.  Those pardoned will still need to petition the court for an expungement. 

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