HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project is harder to get into than the Ivy League.
Data released by the state this week showed a 94% rejection rate. Of more than 3,500 total applicants across the state, 231 were approved to have a public hearing before the state Board of Pardons. The applications of another 434 people were held for further review on their cases.
However, going before the Board of Pardons does not guarantee a pardon.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced the initiative in September.
“If you’re living your best life, I believe in a fresh start,” Fetterman said at the time. “Imagine not being able to volunteer at your kid’s school because of some stupid weed charge 20 years ago. The governor and I strongly believe in second chances.”
To qualify, applicants could only have one of two minor, non-violent marijuana criminal convictions on their criminal records. The two charges were possession of marijuana and marijuana, small amount of personal use.
In the last 10 years, more than 50,000 people have been convicted of one of those charges in Pennsylvania, according to Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE).
Criminal justice reform advocates said the project’s criteria were too narrow.
“People will often get charged with the full suite of marijuana convictions in the Pa. books,” said Andrea Lindsay of PLSE.
There are 34 marijuana offenses in the Pennsylvania criminal code, plus related charges like possession of drug paraphernalia or cultivating any number of plants.
“I think that this program had great intentions, but the scale of these convictions is going to require an actual system-level response, and the program has thus far failed to deliver on that commitment,” Lindsay said.
The Wolf administration has attempted other pardon projects in the past. In 2019 Gov. Wolf announced expedited pardons for non-violent marijuana offenses. In the three years since, though, only 326 received pardons, according to data from the Board of Pardons.
The next Board of Pardons meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13.