Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor has called on Pennsylvanians burdened with marijuana-related criminal convictions to petition the courts under an expedited process to have these records cleared.
Lt. Gov John Fetterman (D) was on KDKA radio’s Morning Show and said sealing as many records as possible in order to restore rights and opportunities to housing, education and financial support, which are denied to thousands for petty marijuana convictions, was one of his chief priorities as he enters his final year in office.
“I’m a fervent believer in second chances. And one of the things I quickly discovered was that people’s lives were just being ruined by these silly charges, and you have all this unnecessary review [to seal records],” said Fetterman, who is chair of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons.
“This is a plant that’s legal in many jurisdictions across America, and it’s not a big deal, but you go through your life in many cases a convicted felon, and that excludes you from a lot of opportunities,” he said. “So I developed an expedited review process that I encourage everybody to partake in.”
He went on to note there are 20,000 cannabis-related cases in Pennsylvania annually, and that even though many nonviolent marijuana convictions date back to the 1970s, these cases are also eligible for expungement.
“If you’ve got some stupid charge like that on your record, it doesn’t cost anything to apply, and we can get that off your permanent record,” Fetterman said. “I don’t care how conservative or how liberal you are politically. I don’t think we as a society should be really damaging people’s future for consuming a plant that is now legal in many jurisdictions—and soon will be in Pennsylvania.”
Fetterman then said he supports an automatic expungement process which could clear records en masse but that for now this isn’t possible without further reform of Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws.
The lieutenant governor is optimistic the state will legalize adult-use cannabis in the near future, highlighting the recent introduction of a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill to the Senate as yet more proof of the reform’s inevitability. The measure, introduced by Sens. Sharif Street (D) and Dan Laughlin (R), would permit adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana, five grams of concentrates and cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 milligrams of THC.
Meanwhile, House lawmakers recently filed another cannabis legalization bill with a strong emphasis on social equity that would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related convictions automatically.
If a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Pennsylvania makes its way through the legislature, it would likely be warmly received by Gov. Tom Wolf. Earlier this year, the governor considered including provisions to legalize marijuana in his annual state budget. While this didn’t ultimately happen, he went on to say that a bipartisan path toward legalization “would be a great thing.”
Fetterman believes the main stumbling block is likely to be disagreements between lawmakers over taxation and revenue distribution, but is hopeful these can be resolved.
With New York and New Jersey set to launch legal cannabis sales next year, there’s an economic incentive to pushing marijuana legalization through quickly though, as Wolf has acknowledged.