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PA Marijuana Pardon Program could help alleviate racial disparities in arrests

The program launched at the beginning of September and is open through the end of the month.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Pennsylvania residents with low-level marijuana criminal convictions have the chance to receive a pardon through September via a free program launched by Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman. 

Advocates for marijuana reform say the PA Marijuana Pardon Project will help many people across the Commonwealth.

"A criminal conviction stays with you for the rest of your life," Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Patrick Nightingale said. "Unless you have Governor's pardon and then follow up with expunging your record, it is going to be something that is going to be accessible to [many people and agencies]. "

Launched by the Wolf administration at the start of September the program gives Pennsylvanians an entire month to apply online for a pardon of up to two minor offenses:

  • Possession of Marijuana (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31)   
  • Marijuana, Small Amount Personal Use (Title 35 Section 780-113 Subsection A31I)

According to data from local law enforcement agencies compiled by Pennsylvania State Police, racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests widened in 2021. Black Pennsylvanians were arrested for marijuana possession at a rate five times higher than white Pennsylvanians in 2021, based on population.

Nightingale says the PA Marijuana Pardon Project could help to remedy this issue.

"Black and brown Pennsylvanians, and Black and brown Americans have been prosecuted at a rate far higher than their white counterparts, despite similar rates of usage," Nightingale said. "This would help to at least address some of that racial disparity."

Nightingale cited that Black Pennsylvanians are also more likely to face employment discrimination, housing discrimination and federally subsidized student loan discrimination for minor possessory offenses.

FOX43 spoke with Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Executive Director Meredith Buettner about the disparities back in July.

“This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania," Buettner said. 

The month-long initiative is separate from the state's expedited program but is designed to be a simpler process. 

"It requires the person seeking the pardon to obtain copies of their paperwork, the criminal information, the sentencing sheet, and other information from the clerk of courts, and to submit it to the Board of Pardons," Nightingale said. 

A quick visit to the PA.gov webpage is all it takes to apply for the program.

"You do not need a lawyer. You don't need to spend a single penny on somebody like me," Nightingale, who is also a criminal defense attorney, said. "It's easy to navigate through the website. It's designed to be quick and efficient."

FOX43 reached out to the Governor's office to find out how many applications have been submitted since the program opened; however, at this time an exact number has not been provided.

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