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Only a few hundred qualify out of thousands for Gov. Tom Wolf’s weed pardon.
Only a few hundred qualify out of thousands for Gov. Tom Wolf’s weed pardon. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.

Only a few hundred qualify out of thousands for Gov. Tom Wolf’s weed pardon

Over 2,000 applications were denied on Thursday, Dec. 1, with only 250 getting the greenlight.

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Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced one of his last legislative efforts before being out of office in 2023, the Marijuana Pardon Project. The pardon would completely clean the records of thousands of individuals in the state with low-level convictions. 

Wolf himself added the pardon would be great news for thousands of Pennsylvanians in clearing their records. However, news from earlier this week revealed that less than 7% of those that applied for the program with such convictions will actually be pardoned.  

According to figures, more than 3,500 people applied for the pardon, but just around 250 were approved and will have the opportunity to clear their record sometime later this month.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons voted on Thursday, Dec. 1, whether they should or should not move forward with the over 2,600 applications from the program. Out of the over a couple thousand applications, only 231 were actually approved and now will go for a final vote by the board later this month on Dec. 16. 

For the cases that are able to get past the round of voting, they will then go on to Wolf who grant the pardon.

Additionally, on Thursday, another 2,002 applications were rejected because they did not meet the requirements of the program. While 434 are on hold in which the board can vote on them at a later date that has not been specified. 

Wolf first announced the project earlier this year on Sept. 1 and only gave individuals until the end of the month on Sept. 30 to apply. Those applicants were supposed to have their particular cases heard on Oct. 13, but because of a large number of typos and clerical errors in the applications themselves, they were put on hold 

The pardon, according to Wolf, only applies to those who at one point in time were convicted of possession of marijuana of a small amount. Anyone who had any other criminal convictions on their record were rejected under the rules to which many advocates have argued that the small margin would end up being a huge problem for the overall effectiveness of the Wolf’s program. 

“Often cannabis consumers get multiple convictions when they are arrested that first time,” said Chris Goldstein, NORML’s Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware regional organizer. “They get a paraphernalia charge, and they get a possession charge all at once. You would have to essentially lead a police-free life other than that one marijuana encounter to qualify.”

Goldstein also added that the program only allowing people less than 30 days to apply also contributed to its limited impact. According to Goldstein, in 2021 more than 13,000 people were arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana while in many states it has been legalized for recreational use. 

According to the latest data available from the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, in 2018 over 1,150 people were sentenced to jail for possession of a small amount of marijuana as that being the highest charge in their case. 

While only a small number of those who applied will actually get pardoned, Goldstein said that for those who are getting the pardon later this month, it will be a huge change for that person’s respective live’s as they will no longer have that hanging over their head, and making things harder for them in terms of getting work, and housing. 

“I’m sure to the 231 people who went through this process, got approved, do qualify, when they get the pardon certificate in their hands, it will matter in their lives,” he said. “They had a reason they wanted this pardon. Whether they wanted it for their own person justice, to clear their own name, or they needed it as answer to their record, those pardons will matter.”

With Wolf only having a few weeks left until he transfers power over to Governor-elect Josh Shapiro, many are urging Wolf to generate a general pardon for the tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians with low-level marijuana offenses. With one stroke of the pen, he can change the lives of thousands of his constituents and leave a lasting legacy.

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