The governor of Pennsylvania has issued 2,540 pardons during his tenure, and at least a quarter of those were for people with prior marijuana convictions, his office announced on Thursday.
As Gov. Tom Wolf (D) prepares for the end of his tenure next week, he’s touting his record as the governor who has granted the most clemency in the state’s history—with 369 pardons this week alone.
Wolf’s clemency total includes 232 people who qualified for relief under a cannabis-specific pardon program that the state facilitated late last year, as well as another 395 that were part of a separate expedited review process for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses.
“I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” Wolf said in a press release.”Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”
“A record prevents positive forward motion in a person’s life, and can spark a repetitive cycle of defeat,” he said. “I firmly believe that with restored rights, pardoned Pennsylvanians prove themselves by stepping up and giving back to our communities.”
While Wolf is touting the cannabis pardon project, advocates were left disappointed that only a few hundred of the more than 3,000 clemency applications submitted during the one-month window for the effort were approved by the state late last year.
The governor launched the statewide pardon initiative in October, celebrating it as an opportunity to let citizens have minor cannabis possession convictions cleared from their records.
The administration and Board of Pardons (BOP) touted the significant number of applications it received through the project, but something went awry.
There were signs of potential issues in late October, when the board initially voted to hold the roughly 3,500 applications they got under advisement until partnering state agencies could carry out a review to ensure that all eligible applicants were properly considered.
BOP Secretary Celeste Trusty had previously told Marijuana Moment that the board identified “quite a few folks who entered incorrect data” on their applications, which may have been due to accidentally entering the wrong docket number for their cannabis case or other minor errors on the online form.
THANK YOU, @GovernorTomWolf ❤️
It has been such a pleasure serving the Commonwealth during such a compassionate administration!https://t.co/EzBOGWAo4U
— celeste (@celeste_trusty) January 12, 2023
Former Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who was sworn in to the U.S. Senate this month and previously served as chair of the state BOP, told Marijuana Moment in October that while the pardons would meaningfully benefit thousands of Pennsylvanians, “the only lasting relief will come when our Republican legislature finally decides to do the right thing and legalize it.”
The former lieutenant governor previously said that he wanted to process cannabis clemency for as many people as possible before leaving office.
While pardons represent full forgiveness for the conviction, the governor’s office has stressed that eligible people will still need to separately petition the courts to have their records formally expunged.
Trusty, Fetterman and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) separately talked about marijuana reform and the pardon program during the 5th annual Cannabis Opportunities Conference in Pennsylvania in September.
Fetterman said that “Pennsylvania is a place for a second chances” and the initiative would “help people get pardons quickly for stupid weed convictions” while the legislature stalls on legalization.
Advocates have some hope that legalization could advance in Pennsylvania this year with a new pro-reform governor being elected, Democrats picking up seats in the House of Representatives and a number of Republican senators expressing support for the reform—but GOP legislative leaders are still opposed.
The Pennsylvania pardon project launched just before President Joe Biden issued a proclamation granting a mass marijuana pardon for those who’ve committed federal possession offenses.
Biden used the opportunity to encourage governors across the U.S. to grant cannabis clemency to people with state-level convictions, and some like Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) have followed suit.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials announced last month that they are awarding nearly $19 million in grants, partially funded by medical marijuana tax revenue, to help substance misuse treatment professionals pay down their student loans.
Outside of the Keystone State, Connecticut officials recently launched a web portal to facilitate more cannabis record sealing after automatically processing relief for tens of thousands of people at the beginning of the year. The governor, lieutenant governor and state lawmakers gathered at the Reentry Welcome Center in Hartford this week to tout the erasure of nearly 43,000 marijuana records, which was made possible as part of the legalization law that was enacted in 2021.
Also in the region, New York’s first legal adult-use marijuana sales got underway late last month, with the inaugural purchase being made by the state’s top cannabis regulator.
Rhode Island’s first recreational cannabis sales started at the beginning of December.
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.