Pennsylvania Provides Free Pardons for Cannabis Convictions

In the midst of historic demonstrations for police and justice system reform, it appears, there’s never been a better time to leverage the power of cannabis for social equity. As we recently reported, Illinois took a major step in that direction by announcing an ambitious plan to help address the wrongs of the past through targeted grants and support to those communities unduly affected by the War on Drugs.

Pennsylvania Cannabis Convictions

Even more exciting, other states are picking up the cue. In Pennsylvania, Lt. Governor John Fetterman—who also heads the state’s Board of Pardons—recently announced a program designed to fast-track the expungement and pardoning of minor cannabis crimes.

Cannabis and Social Justice: Pennsylvania Fast-Tracks Pot Pardons

If the move towards cannabis reform predates this year’s historic protests against police brutality and justice system overreach, the groundswell of public support certainly lends the movement urgency. Amidst the broadening recognition among whites that persons of color have been disproportionately targeted by police in general, so too is acceptance that the impact of the War on Drugs—the Nixon-era program now largely seen as a costly and unjust failure—has landed with the greatest force on non-whites.

Pennsylvania’s streamlined pardon program is part of a larger push towards cannabis legality. As Lt. Governor Fetterman explained on Pittsburgh’s WESA news program “The Confluence”:
“My goal, my dream, would be full legalization. But in the interim, you have the ability to apply right now for free for a pardon and we have the ability to streamline and expedite that and handle it in bulk.”

While each state has handled the question of pardons and expungements differently, a common complaint has been that the process is often cumbersome and unwieldy, sometimes requiring those seeking a clean record to submit lengthy and expensive court filings.

Pennsylvania’s program is designed to circumvent that: While potential pardonees must personally apply to the program, the effects are already in motion, with the first batch of pardon applications have already been sent to Governor Tom Wolf’s office. A spokesperson for the governor claims he will review each application personally, both to assess the likelihood of each person to re-offend as well as “the consequences of carrying a record when someone has turned their life around.”

Cannabis and Social Justice: A Prelude to Legalization?

Lt. Governor Fetterman (D) isn’t alone in his support for legalization. As a poll earlier this year found, roughly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians support adult-use cannabis. Governor Tom Wolf, also a Democrat, has come out in favor as well.

Medical cannabis has been legal in the Keystone State since 2016; it’s anticipated that full adult-use legalization isn’t far off. That said, the State Senate is under Republican control, and despite broad public support, it’s anticipated they’ll put the kibosh on Pennsylvania’s legal weed dreams, at least through 2020. As reported in the York Daily Record, the Democrats’ latest attempt to introduce adult-use cannabis, Senate Bill 350, has little chance of passing this year (especially given the realities of a global pandemic). But as for this time next year? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.