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Commentary: Legalize Cannabis,
Reform Criminal Justice System

Proposed legislation would clean the slate for people arrested for past marijuana use

By Submitted Report
The Tube City Almanac
October 23, 2020
Posted in: Commentary-Editorial

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Gov. Tom Wolf and Pardons Board Secretary Brandon Flood (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania file photo from November 2019)

Opinions expressed in editorials and commentaries are those of their authors, and are not those of Tube City Community Media Inc., its board of directors, volunteers, contributors or donors. Responsible replies are welcome.

By Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, State Rep. Jake Wheatley and Brandon Flood

Earlier this year, House Bill 2050 was introduced — a measure to allow for the legal sale of adult-use cannabis (marijuana) through a permitting structure for growers, processors and dispensaries.

There are several great components contained in this bill, including provisions to help our youth, support affordable housing, and provide resources to help minority and women-owned businesses. In addition, it would provide a much-needed influx of revenue to our state at a time when we face significant economic challenges.

Unfortunately, one component of the bill that got lost in the media attention following its introduction is the Cannabis Clean Slate initiative, which would provide for the expungement of cannabis-related offenses for non-violent drug offenders.

If you think that this wouldn’t positively impact thousands of people across our state, think again.

Nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians have been arrested for nothing more than consuming a plant that’s legal in several states.

That, in and of itself is shameful, but imagine, years later, these same people who find it difficult to get a job, obtain a business loan, or pass a criminal background check — all because of an earlier charge on their record for possession or use of cannabis.

That’s wrong.

Right now, we have the power to change this practice and take steps to reform our criminal justice system, which could literally change the lives of thousands of people in our great state. We can play a role in undoing the damage caused for over four decades due to criminalizing people for minor drug offenses.

Approximately 16 percent of Americans have consumed cannabis at least once. It’s safe to say that most of them are not considered criminals. For Pennsylvanians who are or who were incarcerated, it’s long overdue to change the perceptions surrounding cannabis and bring about real reform.

Too many people are being and have been prosecuted for minor non-violent drug offenses, including cannabis possession or use — these are people who should have never entered the criminal justice system in the first place.

They can and should be released and their records expunged because it puts them at a major disadvantage — not just with finding a job or getting a loan, but things that many of us take for granted, like chaperoning our children at school.

Such offenses can also be unfairly used against someone during a child custody dispute, even when the so-called offense occurred more than a decade ago.

People deserve a second chance. Part of that is releasing Pennsylvanians from the adverse and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction for minor, non-violent drug offenses. For those who have already been released after serving their time, their records must be expunged.

These are not people who we need to worry about from a recidivism perspective. They deserve to have their records cleared.

It’s time to have the conversation on H.B. 2050 and move Pennsylvania forward.

John Fetterman is lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. He resides in Braddock. State Rep. Jake Wheatley lives in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Brandon Flood is secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.

Tube City Community Media is committed to printing viewpoints from residents of the McKeesport area and surrounding municipalities. Commentaries are accepted at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for content or length.

To submit a commentary for consideration, please write to Tube City Online, 409 Walnut St., Suite 200, McKeesport, PA 15134, or email tubecitytiger at gmail dot com. Include contact information and your real name. A pen name may be substituted with approval of the editor.

Originally published October 23, 2020.

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