Dec 20, 2022 - News

Pennsylvania marijuana pardon project to clear few applicants' records

Illustration of a marijuana leaf decal on a ticket dispenser.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Pennsylvania's one-time effort to pardon people with certain low-level marijuana convictions resulted in roughly 230 applications reaching the governor's desk — a fraction of the more than 2,600 people who applied.

Why it matters: Criminal records impose significant impediments to employment, housing, education and other opportunities, leaving those with convictions in cycles of poverty.

Driving the news: The state's Board of Pardons voted on applications for Gov. Tom Wolf's Marijuana Pardon Project on Friday.

  • The state is looking into an additional 434 applications for further review, Wolf's spokesperson Emily Demsey told Axios.

Catch up fast: Wolf launched the program for the month of September. Eligibility was limited to those with misdemeanor convictions of marijuana possession and/or small amount for personal use.

  • The state originally received 3,539 applications but some of them were from the same individuals, Demsey said.
  • Celeste Trusty, secretary for the state Board of Pardons, told Axios that many of the people who originally applied did not meet the project's criteria.

By the numbers: The most applications headed to the governor's desk are from Lehigh County (17), while 14 are from Philadelphia, per the state.

The big picture: President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of Americans with federal offenses of simple marijuana possession this year. Governors in several states, including Colorado and Nevada, also moved to issue pardons for low-level marijuana convictions in recent months.

  • Many did so without an application process, resulting in thousands of convictions being removed automatically.
  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued some 45,000 pardons for people with low-level marijuana convictions in November.

Zoom in: Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity helped more than a dozen people in Philly apply to the program.

  • Lindsay, the firm's director of strategic initiatives, called the state project a "total failure" due to the small share of applicants considered.
  • She believes several issues contributed to the low participation rate, including the brief window to apply; the online-only application process, requiring the need for a computer or smartphone; and limiting eligibility to two misdemeanors.

What they're saying: Demsey said the pardon project was a win, considering that the state Legislature has yet to pass a bill to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

  • She said Wolf hopes that "the next administration will continue working to improve this process and give people with these offenses their rightful clean slates, until marijuana becomes legal in Pennsylvania."

What's next: Wolf intends to sign the pardons before the end of his term in January, Demsey said.


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