The recently sworn-in governor of Pennsylvania says that he intends to prioritize expanding marijuana pardon opportunities, including by promoting resources in Spanish to reach more people with eligible convictions.
In an interview with AL DÍA, Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) was asked about the pardon project that launched under his predecessor last year through the state Board of Pardons (BOP).
“I want to build on that program. I want to see it continue. And I want to see more people be able to get help to earn a pardon as a result of it,” he said, adding that he felt the initiative was “somewhat confusing for people” when it was rolled out under former Gov. Tom Wolf (D), which contributed to underwhelming clemency results.
“It was hard for people to know if they qualified or not,” Shapiro said in the interview, which was taped ahead of his inauguration and posted last week after he was sworn in. “We need to do a lot more in other languages, other than English, to ensure that everyone has the ability to know that this program exists. We’ll put a lot more out in Spanish to ensure that we’re reaching communities that have oftentimes been left behind in this.”
The pardon project that Wolf and then-Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) led ultimately resulted in just over 200 acts of relief for those who applied, even though thousands submitted applications seeking clemency.
That said, the prior administration did work proactively in other ways to facilitate relief, and by the end of his tenure, Wolf had about 2,540 total pardons under his belt—the most of any governor in the state’s history—with at least a quarter of those going to people with prior marijuana convictions.
Advocates are optimistic that Shapiro, who previously served as the state’s attorney general, will continue that legacy as state lawmakers again seek to legalize cannabis this session.
“Under the leadership of Austin Davis, my lieutenant governor, you’ll see the marijuana pardons project take on even even more prominence in our administration,” he said. “More people hopefully will qualify, more people will earn a pardon and more people will have this slate clean so that they can move forward.”
“I feel very strongly about this,” he said. “And I think what we need to do is build on the important work that Governor Wolf has done to clarify the rules, to clarify the process, to make it quicker and to be able to get more people the pardons that I personally believe they deserve.”
The new governor also supports broader legalization, and he made it a tenet of his gubernatorial campaign. But as it stands, it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in Pennsylvania, regardless of whether the person is 21 and older.
It remains to be seen whether the legislature is prepared to act on cannabis in the new session, however, especially given ongoing uncertainty about the makeup of the legislature, which saw Democratic gains in the House during the last election but complications in the weeks since. One Democratic member passed since Election Day, and two others have resigned to take other offices.
Marijuana policy also came up during an inauguration celebration for Shapiro last week, with musicians discussing the issue and Wiz Khalifa at one point urging adults 21 and older to smoke cannabis despite ongoing prohibition in the state.