Back in the 1930s, Z-grade exploitation films like “Reefer Madness” and “Marihuana: Weed With Roots in Hell” tried to rattle audiences with notions that marijuana was a drug so potent and so terrifyingly addictive that just a couple of puffs could propel wholesome, well-scrubbed innocents to lives of vice, psychosis and ruin.
These movies generate far more guffaws than chills 80 years later, but there is something to the idea that one puff of pot can have a detrimental impact on the rest of your life. And it’s not because of any properties within marijuana or its effects on the brain, lungs or any other parts of the body. Rather, if you have been one of the unlucky souls arrested in Pennsylvania or in other parts of the United States for using or possessing small amounts of marijuana, it can linger on your record and hinder your prospects of getting a living-wage job, getting a loan, getting an education or otherwise gaining a foothold in America’s middle class.
So, at a moment when the majority of states allow marijuana use for medical purposes, and many states have either legalized marijuana for recreational use or are toying with the idea, it makes sense that low-level offenses that have been a ball-and-chain for many people be purged from their records.
And Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman would like to make that happen.
Last week, Wolf, Fetterman and Board of Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood announced an initiative that would speed up the pardon process for minor drug offenses. Flood and Fetterman explained at a press conference in Harrisburg that they hope to slice the time spent evaluating pardon requests by half and arriving at a decision within a year. Right now, it takes more than two years.
“Minor offenses should not carry a life sentence,” Flood said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.”
The effort to speed up pardons was announced days after Wolf and Fetterman came out in support of legalizing marijuana for recreational use among Pennsylvania adults. They’ve been joined by Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, who tweeted that “continuing to criminalize adult personal marijuana use is a waste of limited law enforcement resources, it disproportionately impacts our minority communities and it does not make us safer.”
Republicans who control the Legislature have no particular interest in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, at least not right now, so it could take time before it happens. But it probably will. Flood observed last week that it’s a “foregone conclusion” that marijuana for recreational use will eventually be allowed in the commonwealth, and “it’s a matter of when, not if.”
Until that day arrives, though, pardoning people for minor marijuana offenses is the right thing to do.