The following editorial appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.
For many decades, possessing even a small amount of marijuana could mean big legal trouble.
Regardless of whether someone was caught with an amount of pot served for personal gain, the record of arrest and conviction was a punishment in itself. This could prevent the offender from entering college, finding a job, accessing a wide range of public services, or even volunteering at their children’s schools.
Possession of marijuana, except for prescribed medical use, remains a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, and all possession is an offense under federal law. But the Wolf administration and many state lawmakers favor making Pennsylvania the 20th state to allow personal recreational use. And current federal policy is not to prosecute for simple possession in states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use, or both.
To free thousands of Pennsylvanians from the shackles of simple possession records as the state nears full legalization, Governor Tom Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman announced the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project.
It opened a narrow window — September — for any Pennsylvania that has been convicted of “possession of marijuana” or “marijuana, personal use in small quantities” to seek a pardon from the state Board of Pardons. . Applications are online at pa.gov/mjpardon. (If the council grants the pardon, the individual will still need to apply to the court to have their criminal record expunged.)
During Wolf’s nearly eight years in office, he and the legislature enacted numerous bipartisan criminal justice reforms, including for drug offenses. The priority gradually shifted from repression and incarceration to treatment.
Pardons were part of the reform effort. Wolf has issued 2,098 pardons, including 326 for non-violent crimes related to possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The pardons bill is the right policy at the right time, as the state government remains committed to criminal justice reform and the movement toward legalization.