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Pa. effort aims to help those impacted by minor marijuana offenses

Marijuana protest
Jose Luis Magana
Demonstrators march for the legalization of marijuana outside of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, April 2, 2016. During the march they demanded Obama use his authority to stop marijuana arrests and pardon offenders.

For some, a marijuana-related criminal conviction can be life-altering.

“It can make you unable to vote, unable to serve in the military, unable to be eligible for government loans, government housing, government assistance, it can also affect child custody. It affects people in so many ways," said Jeff Reidy, the executive director of Lehigh Valley NORML, or National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Lehigh Valley NORML is based in Bethlehem and has been around for 10 years.

The state announced an effort Thursday to support Pennsylvanians who have been adversely impacted by minor marijuana offenses, called the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project. Individuals are now eligible for pardons if they have been convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use.

"Any effort that is moving the ball forward is a great thing,” said Reidy.

To apply for the pardon, the marijuana-related conviction must have taken place in Pennsylvania. There is also no age limit to apply for the pardon. Those with additional convictions are ineligible, and those who receive a pardon will still need to petition the court for an expungement of the conviction from their record.

The state estimates that thousands of Pennsylvanians will be eligible because of convictions over the past several decades. Some of those convictions even predate marijuana’s inclusion as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

“It’s wonderful to see people realizing that cannabis is not the harmful 'quote unquote drug' that it was attested to be for years," Reidy said.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons will accept online applications for the PA Marijuana Pardon Project until Sept. 30. It is free to apply. Governor Tom Wolf is scheduled to begin issuing pardons in December.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the WVIA News Team.