Many Pennsylvania residents with nonviolent cannabis offenses will be given a second chance, and the most recent batch of pardons is a promising and much-needed signal of relief.
In a Jan. 12 announcement, Gov. Tom Wolf granted 369 additional pardons, bringing his total to 2,540. Nearly 400 of those pardons were provided under an expedited review process for nonviolent cannabis-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. 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,” said Gov. Wolf.
“A record prevents positive forward motion in a person’s life, and can spark a repetitive cycle of defeat. I firmly believe that with restored rights, pardoned Pennsylvanians prove themselves by stepping up and giving back to our communities.”
These 2,540 pardons are the most granted by a governor in the history of Pennsylvania. Before Gov. Wolf, Gov. Ed Rendell held the record with 1,122 pardons granted.
Among Gov. Wolf’s pardons, 395 of those were part of the expedited review process for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses and 232 were a part of the PA Marijuana Pardon Project.
In 2019, the Board of Pardons introduced and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman authorized the Expedited Review Program for Nonviolent Marijuana-Related Offenses, a program to speed up the pardon application process for people with nonviolent cannabis possession or paraphernalia convictions.
PA Marijuana Pardon Project is a one-time, large-scale pardoning project for people with select minor, non-violent cannabis criminal convictions. The project is spearheaded by Gov. Wolf and former Lieutenant Gov. Fetterman, and was announced on Sept. 1, 2022, providing a faster way of the process.
“Nobody should be turned down for a job, housing, or volunteering at your child’s school because of some old nonviolent weed charge, especially given that most of us don’t even think this should be illegal,” Fetterman said at the time. Fetterman now serves as U.S. senator from Pennsylvania after assuming office on Jan. 3.
In legal terms, a pardon constitutes total forgiveness by the state for a criminal conviction, regardless of whether the sentence included time in prison, and allows for expungement of the related criminal record. Applying for a pardon is free for individuals seeking clemency, and the change was made during the Wolf Administration. Under the administration, the pardons process was modernized so that the application process is more streamlined, and the application fees are now waived. The application can be downloaded online and the process does not require a lawyer.
A report released in 2020 by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia—analyzing 10 years of pardons data—found that pardons contributed $16.5 million to Pennsylvania’s economy over the past decade at “no cost to anyone.”
The governor has shown consistent support for cannabis over the past several years, after coming around to it more recently. On Twitter in 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf reiterated his call to end pot prohibition in Pennsylvania. It’s a change in tune for Wolf, who in 2017 said that Pennsylvania wasn’t ready to legalize recreational pot use. Two of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, New Jersey and New York, helped push the state into adopting its own cannabis market.
Gov. Wolf has served for two terms in his leadership role. The governor’s Priorities for Pennsylvania is helping to fuel Pennsylvania’s economic comeback, and the latest round of pardons is helping to further improve his image.