Clearing a Marijuana-Related Conviction from Your Records
In Pennsylvania, possession of illegal or controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, or other drugs is currently considered a criminal offense. Carrying paraphernalia without the presence of drugs can also result in a criminal charge. Penalties for drug offenses vary greatly depending on drug type and amount found in your possession, but opinions towards the decriminalization and even legalization of one drug – marijuana – seem to be changing. This may provide those with prior convictions or drug possession charges with a way to clear or expunge their records.
Following Lt. Governor John Fetterman's state-wide listening tour in 2019, both he and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced their support for legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state. Governor Wolf reiterated his call for the legalization of marijuana as part his 2020 Fall legislative agenda, emphasizing that the revenue generated from legalization may help to offset the significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the Pennsylvania state budget.
This support and legislative push are significant because current penalties for possession of illegal substances range from a small fine and minor probation to a lengthy incarceration and significant fine, especially with a prior record of drug charges. Federally, marijuana is a schedule I controlled substance and is illegal. However, in most parts of Pennsylvania, possession of small amounts of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor charge. There are two ways a misdemeanor drug charge can be expunged: 1) if you are approved for probation without verdict after your arrest, or 2) if you are convicted, you must get a pardon from the Governor.
Resistance from other lawmakers towards legalization of marijuana may prevent the measure from passing, but it could open the door to decriminalization of the drug.
While decriminalization and legalization may be used interchangeably, they are distinctly different. According to the Canna Law Blog, "Decriminalization essentially means that a given activity no longer qualifies as criminal conduct and can only be treated as a civil infraction, but that activity is unregulated."
"Marijuana legalization means you can't be arrested, ticketed, or convicted for using marijuana if you follow the state laws as to age, place, and amount for consumption. However, you can still get arrested for selling or trafficking marijuana if you aren't following state laws on licensure and taxation," states FindLaw's blog.
While the debate about how to handle marijuana rages on, those with cannabis convictions are seeking to have them removed from their records to open doors for housing, jobs, special licenses and student loans. The good news is that there is a way, even if decriminalization or legalization of marijuana does not happen for a while.
In September 2019, Lt. Governor John Fetterman called on the Board of Pardons to expedite the application process for pardoning non-violent offenses of marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia possession. A state pardon forgives the crime and is the first step in applying for expungement, which eventually removes the conviction from an individual's record on the public domain. Typically, pardons and expungements have taken two and a half years or more, but with the expedited process, cases may be expunged in a year or less. There is no guarantee that applicants will receive a favorable decision, according to the Board of Pardons website, which notes, "…there will be less of an emphasis on how recent the conviction is, and more of an emphasis on how compelling the applicant is at demonstrating how a pardon would improve their overall quality of life."
Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Law may apply to your case as well.
Regardless of the outcome of your criminal case and marijuana-related offenses, an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in PA can be a great asset to determining your eligibility for a pardon and assisting you with the filing process. Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC has the experience to best support you.
Attorney George Lepley of Lepley, Engelman, Yaw, and Wilk, LLC has practiced criminal law almost exclusively for 44 years. He has represented individuals with every type of criminal charge including thousands of DUI cases, criminal offense cases, and approximately fifty homicide cases.
If you have a marijuana-related offense on your record, contact Lepley, Engelman, Yaw and Wilk, LLC to schedule your consultation and begin your journey to a clean record today.