On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf and Lt Governor John Fetterman held a news conference to announce that it is time for Pennsylvania to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana. Previously, Governor Wolf had stated that he wanted to study the effects of legalization on the 11 states that had already legalized adult recreational use marijuana. Wednesday’s announcement represented a significant jump forward in the legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf acknowledged it would likely take longer to get the General Assembly to go along with legalizing recreational adult-use marijuana pot.
However, the impact of the new position toward legalization of marijuana may immediately impact Pennsylvanians with small amount, non-violent marijuana convictions. Despite realizing that adult use marijuana would not become legal over night, Governor Wolf urged the General Assembly to immediately pass legislation to decriminalize non-violent and small cannabis-related offenses as well as find a way to expunge past convictions of those who have those kind of offenses on their criminal record. Governor Wolf stated, “This has the potential to affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, many of whom had their lives shattered by a conviction on an action that most Pennsylvanians do not believe is a crime,” The governor further stated that, “Together we can get more Pennsylvanians back to work, working across the aisle in this building.”
Lt. Gov. Fetterman announced that he is directing Brandon Flood, secretary of the Board of Pardons, to aggregate and expedite the pardon process for Pennsylvanians with small amount of and non-violent marijuana convictions as well as drug paraphernalia convictions on their criminal records. “In other words, we’ve waived the fee so it doesn’t cost you anything,” Fetterman said. “I would encourage every Pennsylvanian that has one of these charges to apply for a pardon today so we can help you get beyond those small convictions and definitively issue a pardon. This proposal enjoys the full support of the governor, my office and the Board of Pardons, too, to make sure we free Pennsylvanians from this incredible burden that’s unnecessary.”
The governor’s call for legalizing pot drew opposition from majority Republican leaders in both chambers who preferred to focus on the medical marijuana program that Pennsylvania legalized in 2016.
Lt. Governor Fetterman reported that the overall public support for legalizing recreational adult cannabis falls somewhere between 65 and 70 percent. He further stated that decriminalization of marijuana and expungement was in the 80 to 90 percent range.