Sunday, October 6, 2019

Gov. Wolf pushes pardons for low-level marijuana convictions

If you have a conviction for a “low-level” marijuana crime, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons have a deal for you, reported
They are vowing to accelerate the process for reviewing applications for pardons to purge such offenses from the records of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
The hope is to cut the turnaround time for evaluating such pardon applications by more than half, to about a year, Wolf, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference in the Capitol.
“Minor offenses should not carry a life sentence,” Wolf said. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said of expediting pardons for pot crimes. “It’s also the smart thing to do.”
A minor marijuana conviction can stand in the way of someone getting a good job, housing and education, the governor said.
The pardons initiative comes in tandem with Wolf’s support of legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, a push he said has bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Flood described the expediting of marijuana-related pardons applications as a “stop-gap” measure pending an anticipated statewide decriminalization of recreational pot.
“In my opinion, it’s a foregone conclusion that Pennsylvania will legalize (recreational) marijuana,” Flood said. “It’s a matter of when, not if.”
He said expedited pardons relief will be open to those with convictions for possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use; for possession with intent to distribute a small amount; distribution of a small amount that does not involve a sale of the drug; possession of drug paraphernalia; marijuana-related conspiracy; and in some cases felony possession.
The expected one-year turnaround time for expedited pardon rulings is an improvement on the current 2 1/2 -year average time for reviewing marijuana cases that have been lumped in with pardon requests for all other types of crimes, Flood said.
The accelerated pardon track is not open to those who have pending cases involving marijuana crimes, he said. Pardons can only be sought after convictions. Anyone with a history of violent crime will be excluded from the expedited program as well, Flood said.
Only one pardon application can be filed at a time. The filing process is free.
Flood said expediting the pardon process is a better option than expecting those facing marijuana charges to seek admission to Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition programs that allow non-violent first-time offenders to avoid criminal records. County district attorneys are the gatekeepers on ARD programs, which charge participation fees ranging from $1,100 to $3,000, depending on the county, he said.
Commutations aren’t suitable alternatives, either, because applicants have to wait 10 years from the date of their convictions to even apply, Flood said.
Even with the expedited program, there is no guarantee of a pardon, he and Wolf stressed.
“I want to emphasize that while we cut down on the red tape for pardons, these cases are not being rubber stamped,” the governor said.
“I read each recommended case and weigh the decision carefully. I factor in the effect a pardon will have on past victims and the likelihood to re-offend,” he said. “But I also weigh the consequences of people continuing to carry a record when they have turned their lives around. By allowing more cases to be heard through the pardons process, we are treating people like individual human beings.”
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