Pennsylvania Now Expunging Past Marijuana Convictions

The governor and lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania are encouraging those with past low-level marijuana possession charges to pursue the state’s new expungement program.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman announced a reform process to expedite low-level marijuana possession pardons and urged people to apply last week.

“We have people languishing in our prisons for having done something that wasn’t violent, didn’t really hurt anybody else, and what we’ve done, is we’re spending $40,000 a year to incarcerate them,” said Wolf.

The announcement arrived one day after Wolf came out in support of legalizing recreational use marijuana. According to a local CBS-affiliate station, the governor started considering cannabis reform last December. Attorney General Josh Shapiro has also endorsed reform.

Attorney General Shapiro added that “continuing to criminalize adult personal marijuana use is a waste of limited law enforcement resources, it disproportionately impacts our minority communities and it does not make us safer.”

Fetterman recently spent 98 days visiting 67 counties in Pennsylvania to talk to citizens about marijuana and found broad, widespread support for legalization. He is now encouraging those with low-level convictions to apply for the new program he is spearheading as head of the state’s Board of Pardons.

Fetterman’s findings on his tour led to a report released last week that endorsed full marijuana legalization. It said there was “near-unanimous support for decriminalization and mass expungement of non-violent and small cannabis-related offenses.”

The lieutenant governor found that bipartisan support for marijuana came from the belief that a new legal industry would be a great job creator.

Many parts of Pennsylvania such as Fetterman’s hometown of Braddock are in need of more industry. Casinos have become a big business in the former steel bastion of Allentown, Pa.

Wolf and Fetterman would like to see the legislature specifically pass decriminalization and adult use reform.

Fetterman acknowledged the legislative process takes time, saying that “one thing we can do right now is alleviate the burden of small-amount, nonviolent convictions that scar the lives of otherwise productive citizens.”

“They shouldn’t continue to suffer with employment and housing issues because they were convicted of doing something that most Pennsylvanians don’t even think should be illegal,” he added.

Fetterman, the former Mayor of Braddock, has been especially conscious of the numerous negative effects of the War on Drugs.

Applying for a pardon is free.

Politics as Usual Blocking Reform

Despite the backing of Pennsylvania’s governor and lieutenant governor for marijuana reform, bipartisan support might be hard to gather. In response to the governor’s call for legalization last week, the Legislative Republican leaders quickly came out against reform, saying the following:

“We are disappointed and frustrated Gov. Wolf would promote recreational use of a … schedule 1 narcotic. We do not believe easing regulations on illegal drugs is the right move in helping the thousands of Pennsylvanias who are battling drug addiction.”

Both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are controlled by Republicans by narrow margins.

Under current Pennsylvania marijuana law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, subject to a fine of $400, 30 days in jail, and a criminal record.

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