If a bill passes in Pennsylvania, medical cannabis patients will no longer be at risk of being charged with a DUI just because drug tests show the presence of THC in their system, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. However, that doesn’t mean you can drive while impaired if you have a card, nor does it apply to anyone who uses cannabis without a medical card.
Rather, the introduced legislation attempts to address a long-standing problem since cannabis legalization. As many readers know, THC can show up in your urine 30 days after you consume it and up to 90 days for heavier users. Therefore, arresting people for DUIs because their drug test shows the presence of THC would be like issuing out DUIs to a driver who hasn’t had a drink in a month. The bias in drug testing against cannabis, one of the safest drugs, doesn’t only come up regarding alcohol. Cocaine leaves your urine after about three days, as does heroin. Meth can hang around for six days. When a person fails a drug test for any reason, it’s often just because they smoked some weed.
We know that cannabis is generally safe to consume, and a recent Canadian study even found that weed legalization does not lead to more car crashes. However, it’s understandable that folks are concerned about impaired drivers. But, under current Pennsylvania law, police can charge drivers with a DUI when marijuana use is detected, regardless of the level of impairment or time of consumption.
“In 2016, the PA General Assembly voted to legalize medicinal use of cannabis. Sadly, the legislature failed to provide these patients the same privileges afforded to others who have legal prescriptions for a scheduled medication,” reads a cosponsor and bipartite memo from Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Luzerne. “Medicinal cannabis patients regularly contact our offices concerned that state law makes it illegal for them to drive,” they continue.
Currently (and thankfully), Pennsylvania is an outlier and only one of a handful of states which have zero tolerance for controlled substances. Thirty-three states (even somewhere cannabis is still mostly outlawed) require proof of actual impairment at the time of being pulled over. Last session, Pennsylvania representatives introduced similar legislation but got stuck in the government’s quicksand and didn’t make it out of the Transportation Committee. Additional attempts to solve this issue arose in the state Senate. The Senate Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 167 last June. However (more government quicksand) the bill didn’t even get a vote in the full Senate before the 2021-22 legislative session closed.
“During a Senate Transportation Committee meeting last September, representatives of the Pennsylvania State Police testified that the bill would not adversely impact their mission to keep the highways and byways of the Commonwealth free of impaired drivers,” Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, the prime sponsor of SB 167, said in a statement at the time of that committee vote, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Considering more than 425,000 Pennsylvania residents have active patient certifications allowing them to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, let’s hope this issue resolves sooner rather than later.
Reasonable Pennsylvania officials are currently trying to make cannabis laws more rational in other ways. Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland, and Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport announced plans earlier this year for legislation allowing doctors to certify patients to use medical cannabis for any condition rather than the state’s current limited medical list. On a map of which states have legalized adult-use, Pennsylvania sticks out like a sore thumb that hasn’t.
From humble origins, the legacy of 420 has grown into a celebration of global proportions. Marked on April 20 each year, the festivities take many forms, though a love for cannabis and appreciation for the community remains constant. Today, parties marking weed’s unofficial high holy day range from legacy, large-scale smoke sessions to major productions headlined by reggae legends and chart-topping rappers. The day is drawing near, and with more and more states embracing legalization, there are more 420 events happening than ever. With that in mind, here’s a look at ten of the most notable 420 events happening across the nation.
The math here is simple: Add some of reggae’s biggest names to one of the most iconic venues in the entire US and it equals an unmissable 420 experience. That’s what’s on tap for Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which will host the Marley Brothers for two unforgettable nights. On April 19, Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani Marley will perform with special guests Sean Paul and Protoje. On April 20, the children of Bob Marley return for another show, this one with Steel Pulse, Lee “Scratch” Perry and more. These should be some seriously special nights—the Red Rocks’ specialty.
Things should be next level at the fifth New York Cannabis Freedom Festival now that adult-use cannabis is legal in the Empire State. Featuring music, guest speakers and vendor exhibits, the NYCFF is packed with panels, events and a performance by headliner Raven International, all backdropped by the exciting prospect of seeing where legal cannabis in New York goes next.
Want to experience 420 in its full glory? Head to Denver for Mile High 420, which bills itself as the world’s largest free celebration devoted to smoking cannabis. Set in Civic Center Park, this year’s installment remains free but does require advanced registration, which seems well worth it given the event is set to be hosted by stoner legend Tommy Chong and feature performances from Rick Ross, Fivio Foreign and Waka Flocka Flame, among others.
Golden Gate Park’s Robin Williams Meadow is home to California’s biggest free cannabis event, where crowds flock to Hippie Hill to ring in the arrival of 4:20 pm. This year’s edition is set to feature a performance by Erykah Badu as well as plenty of top-notch people watching. And, if the city of San Francisco opts to approve pending permits, 2023 will also see the return of legal sales and consumption to the event for a second year. But regardless of that outcome, the place will undoubtedly be packed with the smell of good flower this 420.
Want to get in on a secret? Keep close tabs on this page from top California cultivator Glass House Farms, where specifics on their plans for April 20 will soon be revealed. Past activations and surprise pop-up events from the brand have featured the likes of Flying Lotus, Duckwrth, Guapdad 4000, Tiffany Haddish and Eric Andre, so there’s good reason to believe they have something equally amazing cooked up for this year’s installment.
Not every 420 event happens on the exact date, making the party last even longer. One great example is Washington, DC’s National Cannabis Festival. Taking over the RFK Festival Grounds on April 22, this multi-faceted event includes a concert headlined by rapper 2 Chainz in addition to educational programming, an exhibitor fair and an aptly named “Munchies Zone.” There’s even the prospect of a catching a weed-themed wedding or two while you’re there.
Invading Hadley, Massachusetts from April 21-22, the Grass is Greener Gathering doubles as a celebration of 420 and Earth Day (April 22) with a stacked music lineup headlined by Action Bronson on Friday and Fugees’ founder Wyclef Jean on Saturday. Featuring three music stages, 75+ vendors, pro wrestling exhibitions and hot air balloon rides, GGG is an annual East Coast stoner’s paradise that also makes a point of using their proceeds from ticket sales to support worthy causes.
The Scranton-based festival is one of the largest on the East Coast. For its ninth installment, the PA Cannabis Festival is hitting the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, where it will host two stages and 300+ vendors for a wild weekend of weed-themed fun. Presented by CuraLeaf, the 2023 edition will feature performances from Bong Hits for Jesus, Space Kamp, and Kottonmouth Kings. This year also introduces the option to camp on-site for those seeking a more immersive, scenic excursion.
Agate Dreams in gorgeous Suquamish, Washington has found a perfect marriage with their annual 420 Golf Tournament. Set to return for its second installment in 2023, the event offers a chance to hit the links with your pot-loving peers for a scramble format completion in pursuit of a cash prize. Naturally, registration costs $420 per four-person team, which includes meals and swag.
Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420 Fest takes place at Sweetwater Brewery. There’s an old-school rave vibe to this brewer’s warehouse that doubles as a venue for the annual occasion. Beyond having a blast with good bud and brews, you can also enjoy a lineup of musical talent topped by Shakey Graves, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Ghostland Observatory. It’s a testament to this fest’s appeal that they can snag such a dazzling mix of acclaimed artists to come through.
The sale of cannabis is, notably, still illegal in Pennsylvania.
But Shapiro’s proposal is a nod toward a weed-friendly feature in the Keystone State.
The first-term governor’s budget “proposes an adult use cannabis tax that would be imposed on the wholesale price of products sold through the regulated framework of the production and sales system, once legalized.”
“The proposed rate is 20 percent of the wholesale price of cannabis products sold through the regulated framework,” the budget reads.
The proposal includes an estimate that “sales would commence January 1, 2025, with initial revenue collections realized in 2024-25.”
According to the Inquirer, Shapiro’s “proposal includes estimates that assume adult-use sales would begin in January 2025 and bring in about $16 million in tax revenue that year … [and] tax revenue [would] increase to $64.1 million in 2026, $132.6 million in 2027, and $188.8 million in 2028.”
Shaprio, who was elected as governor last year, and other Pennsylvania Democrats have made it known that they want to legalize marijuana in the state.
He also emphasized the importance of any new cannabis law to include social equity provisions to right previous wrongs of the Drug War.
“But let me be clear: legalization must include expungement for those in jail or who have served time for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Shapiro continued in the tweet. “Our Black & brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by this for far too long.”
A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers filed a memo earlier this year stating their desire to pass a cannabis legalization bill this year.
“It’s time to regulate and tax this major crop product in service of the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians,” state House Reps. Dan Frankel and Donna Bullock, both Democrats, said in the memo, which was released in January. “Soon we will be introducing legislation to do just that.”
Frankel and Bullock highlighted the ubiquity of cannabis use in Pennsylvania––both through the state’s established medical marijuana program, and the illicit market.
“Pennsylvanians are using cannabis,” they wrote in the memo. “Some of that cannabis is sold legally to patients through the medical cannabis program. Those products are regulated for safety and producers pay for the costs of managing the program.”
Cannabis is also sold illegally in Pennsylvania,” the lawmakers continued. “We have no idea what’s in it, how it was produced or where it comes from. We do know that it gets into the hands of young people, and we get no tax benefit to support our communities; meanwhile, the enforcement of our cannabis laws has not affected all communities equally – far from it. Although white people and people of color use cannabis about equally, black Pennsylvanians are about 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis use as their white counterparts, according to Pennsylvania State Police data compiled by NORML.”
They said that their proposal “will create a legal and regulatory framework structured to control and regulate the cultivation, processing, transportation, distribution, delivery and sale at retail of cannabis and cannabis products with the following central goals in mind: Consumer Safety; Social Justice; Economic Equity; Prevention of Substance Use Disorder; Revenue.”
But the prospects for legalization in Pennsylvania remain unclear.
“Since late last year, several lawmakers have filed memos about legalization proposals that give an idea of what an adult-use market could look like — though it’s unclear if or when a legalization bill will be passed,” the Inquirer reported.
A pair of lawmakers in Pennsylvania want to make it easier –– a lot easier –– for doctors in the state to prescribe medical cannabis to patients.
The proposed, bipartisan bill –– introduced earlier this year by Republican state Sen. Mike Reagan and Democratic state Sen. James Brewster –– would ease restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana program in a bid to bring the treatment to a larger pool of patients.
Reagan and Brewster detailed their proposals in a legislative memo that was circulated in late January. Most notably, the bill would eliminate the list of nearly two dozen qualifying conditions currently necessary for a patient to obtain a medical cannabis prescription, and instead would leave it to the discretion of the physician.
“Our proposal will eliminate the list of qualifying conditions and allow a patient’s doctor – any doctor authorized to prescribe controlled substances – to make that decision,” the memo said.
“The bill will also eliminate the need for renewing a medical marijuana card. Cost is already a hindrance that pushes medical patients to the illicit market, which exposes them to a dangerous product that can be laced with substances such as fentanyl or toxins that can cause further health problems.”
Additionally, the memo said that the measure “will take a look at license parity for grower/processors across the Commonwealth.”
“We are doing this bill to make it more convenient,” Brewster told TribLive. “We have watched it for five years now, and it is time to free it up.”
“Legislators are not doctors, and we should be trying to expand that list when necessary,” he added.
According to TribLive, there “are more than 423,000 active medical cannabis patients in Pennsylvania, but Brewster said about 700,000 people have given some indication that they are interested in joining the program.”
Their proposal is not the first move by Pennsylvania legislators this year to broaden and improve the state’s medical marijuana program.
“It is crucial that Pennsylvanians have accessible and equitable entry into the burgeoning medical cannabis industry. Currently, however, prohibitions on acquiring new permits harm both entrepreneurs and consumers. Farmers and small enterprises are denied the freedom to share in the nearly $2 billion that has been generated by the industry to date. The resulting unfair market conditions deny consumers more affordable options to a proven and recognized medication,” the two lawmakers said in a memo.
“There is a palpable need to change this prevailing imbalance. My legislation will establish a new permit for farmers and other small agricultural ventures to grow and sell medical cannabis to existing grower/processors on a limited basis,” the memo continued. “Enabling small scale cultivation will allow our small farmers to be able to pull their crops together to share in a new license so that they can be part of this large economic gain for Pennsylvania. Moreover, this legislation opens the door for growers new to the industry, women growers, and growers from marginalized communities to take part in this thriving enterprise.”
Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis in 2016 under then-Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
The state’s new governor, Josh Shapiro, who was elected last year and took office in January, has voiced his support for legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.
“As Governor, I’ll legalize recreational marijuana — and it’s going to deliver millions of dollars back to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said on Twitter last year.
A pair of Pennsylvania lawmakers want to create new opportunities for farmers in the state to grow medical marijuana.
State House Reps. Melissa L. Shusterman and Ismail Smith-Wade-El, both Democrats, filed a memo to colleagues on Monday detailing their plans to introduce legislation that “would allow Pennsylvania farmers to grow medical cannabis,” local news station WHTM reported.
“It is crucial that Pennsylvanians have accessible and equitable entry into the burgeoning medical cannabis industry. Currently, however, prohibitions on acquiring new permits harm both entrepreneurs and consumers. Farmers and small enterprises are denied the freedom to share in the nearly $2 billion that has been generated by the industry to date. The resulting unfair market conditions deny consumers more affordable options to a proven and recognized medication,” Shusterman and Smith-Wade-El said in the memo, which was posted on Monday.
Their bill “would allow for a new permit that farmers and other small agricultural ventures can apply for to grow and sell medical cannabis to existing growers/processors on a limited basis,” according to WHTM, with both Shusterman and Smith-Wade-El saying that “passing this legislation would open the door to new growers, including those in marginalized communities.”
“There is a palpable need to change this prevailing imbalance. My legislation will establish a new permit for farmers and other small agricultural ventures to grow and sell medical cannabis to existing grower/processors on a limited basis,” the lawmakers said in the memo. “Enabling small scale cultivation will allow our small farmers to be able to pull their crops together to share in a new license so that they can be part of this large economic gain for Pennsylvania. Moreover, this legislation opens the door for growers new to the industry, women growers, and growers from marginalized communities to take part in this thriving enterprise.”
“Please join me in this effort to promote the economic wellbeing of small farmers and health of patients throughout Pennsylvania,” they said in closing.
Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis treatment in 2016, when lawmakers there passed a bill opening the treatment up to qualified patients in the state.
Last year, two Pennsylvania state senators introduced a bill that would have allowed medical cannabis patients there to grow their own cannabis plants at home.
The two lawmakers, state Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat, and Dan Laughlin, a Republican, told colleagues in a 2021 memo that their legislation would remedy “inefficiencies” in the state’s medical cannabis program.
“Since the passage of Act 16 in 2016, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana (MMJ) program has offered lifesaving medicine to communities across the Commonwealth. However, there are still inefficiencies around MMJ that are well known, especially as it relates to cost and access,” the lawmakers said in the memo. “This year’s quarterly Pennsylvania MMJ Advisory board meeting revealed significant disparities in accessibility. The PA Department of Health indicated that patients in some counties must travel more than two hours in order to reach a dispensary. This is simply not feasible for many Pennsylvanians. In addition, patients have also been vocal on the fiscal challenges around the rising costs of medicine and affordability.”
“It is critical that policy meet people where they are. By allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis plants at home, we can help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine. This legislation would go a long way towards helping everyday Pennsylvanians meet their health needs and ensuring everyone is treated equitably and fairly under Act 16,” they added.
The bill fizzled out in last year’s legislative session.
Until about a year and a half ago, I always said that I didn’t like “loud” music. I didn’t mind if the volume was turned up, but too much noise made me uneasy; I preferred lullaby baby music at all times of the day, or songs about fuckin’ bitches and getting money because who doesn’t like being brainwashed? And then I heard Soul Glo.
I’m not entirely sure what it was about them that made me change my mind—perhaps the fact that they’re Black, but then again, the drummer TJ is white, so that couldn’t be it. Maybe it was because they allow the listener enough time to breathe before another auditory flogging. (I’m listening to Diaspora Problems now, and no, that can’t be it either; the entire album scares me.) More likely, it’s just because they’re really talented, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to chat with them.
Before we get to the good stuff, let me introduce the band: There’s TJ, whom you already met. GG, the guitarist, and Pierce on vocals.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
High Times: How’d you guys meet?
TJ: I met GG a while ago. I met GG, like, over a decade ago.
GG: I met TJ at a show in New York City at 538 Johnson. And I met Pierce through band stuff. Pierce actually booked my old band’s old show in Philadelphia.
Pierce: People had been coming in, coming out. And essentially, both TJ’s time and GG’s time just came to be in the band. I’ve been in this band from the beginning, but everybody else has joined.
HT: So how does a song start for you guys? What’s that look like, going into the studio?
Pierce: It really depends. Somebody usually comes with an idea. The idea might be a full song already ready to go. Or it might just require a few little flavorings from each of us. Or one of us will only have a couple riffs, and then we kinda just play things, play the ideas over and over, talk about how we want them to sound. Or, sometimes for the digital shit, GG’ll just be making beats and sometimes I’m there and I have ideas that GG will then translate into songs.
HT: Do you go in with a theme?
GG: Musically, nah. I don’t think so.
TJ: Kinda just happens a lot of the time.
Pierce: There was times where we’d ask each other, What do we want this next shit to sound like? One album I was like, I want this shit to sound like pain. And I feel like it did.
HT: I feel like there’s some comedy to the music videos. How do you feel that plays into the music itself?
TJ: I was just the subject of the music video. The music video was really a Pierce idea. I mean it is all sort of playing up minor themes in the existence of this band. Was my experience of joining the band as the drummer literally being flagellated on a rope? No. But it was painful. I got a call and it was like, do you want to play this fest with us in a week, and I was like sure. And then we practiced the set every day for a week, and I was like, I feel like I could sort of play this. And then I just had to do it. It beat me into shape, in a sense.
HT: What role does cannabis play in your music?
GG: Jesus Christ.
TJ: WellI mean, you heard the beginning of the album, right? I’ve been smoking weed every day for, like, over a decade so it has a role to play in virtually everything I do.
Pierce: The way other people drink coffee, I think, is how I smoke weed. The way other people smoke cigarettes is how I smoke weed. It really has helped me manage my anxiety and depression in a way that I needed for many years before I really discovered it. Smoking weed as a teen for the first time, I just didn’t know I could feel, like, good. I didn’t know I could not have a constant monologue that’s totally driven by anxiety. And that’s just really underrated for somebody like me. Obviously, I want to be a more well-rounded person, so I have to find other things in life that do that for me as well; and also weed helped me to realize that. They’re all, as GZA said, planets revolving around the same sun. The music, weed, and everything else that I love are the things that keep me tethered to this mortal coil.
GG: I was smoking weed as a baby.
HT: As a baby?!
GG: To join this band, one of the requirements, well not a requirement, but I was asked before I joined this band: Do you smoke weed? And I said, every day. Now I don’t do that every day anymore, because of a certain situation that I was a part of, but I did smoke weed last night and that shit was crazy.
HT: Do you smoke together, like in the studio?
Pierce: We used to a lot, like a lot a lot.
HT: What caused the change?
GG: For me, I got arrested. So it just fucked me up a little bit and I can’t do it all the time, because I get super anxious now.
HT: How do you feel about mass incarceration in relation to cannabis?
GG: It’s bullshit, off top.
TJ: Especially when you have places that are rolling out legalization. That’s ridiculous. How can you get locked up for some shit that’s not even illegal anymore?
Pierce: It’s like the emancipation proclamation came out and niggas was still slaves because no one told them. It’s like niggas will really just steal your life away, and not tell you.
HT: Why do you make music?
Pierce: I don’t really feel like I’m that good at too much other shit, for real. So when this stuck for me as a kid, it stuck. I mean, the easy answer is because I can’t skate.
GG: My dad is a percussionist and he gave me some drums because he thought it was a good idea and ha ha. He probably kicked himself in the ass several times for doing that because of how I developed as an individual. It’s just something that I stuck with. Somebody left a guitar at my crib and I just picked it up, and I taught myself how to play it as a bass, then I was like, Yo bro, there’s two more strings on it. Then I started teaching myself guitar shortly afterward. I don’t know, I just felt like I should keep doing it because it made me feel good as I progressed with the instrument. And over time I just kept meeting cooler and cooler people, which made me feel a sense of belonging.
TJ: My dad got me into punk. It’s just something I’ve always been interested in and it’s something people have been encouraging me to do.
HT: Hmm. Do you come from a wealthy family? Punk music seems like something only wealthy parents would introduce to their kids. I don’t know why I feel like that.
TJ: Not broke, but not wealthy particularly. I think it’s just because my dad’s young, comparatively, to other people my age. [He’s] still in [his] mid-50s now and I’m going to be 30 next month. He was just into cool shit and it helped me. He just had this giant pile of CDs. It was either that or go to the library. I would just take shit from the library and burn it. My mom worked at a library.
Pierce: I was also burning a lot of CDs, for sure. I was just talking last night to somebody about how I listened to Metallica for the first time on a burned CD that they made for me. It was Metallica’s Ride the Lightning on one side, then Arch Enemy’s Doomsday [Machine] on the other side. I was already listening to a lot of rock music during that time… I was in middle school, so I was probably like 12, 13. My dad was really into music also, but he was into jazz fusion mostly, and a lot of weird pop. He doesn’t really listen to metal or anything at all; that was more so my own personality. But I feel like he definitely got me on the path of listening to very, very energetic and busy music. He worked for the Census Bureau; my mom was in the military, so we were, like, middle class. We could go on vacation, not every year. And it was always through timeshares.
HT: How would you say class influences music and the bands that come out? Do you think if they come from wealthy parents, they have a better shot at success?
Pierce: Yeah, I think it can definitely make a difference. Like, my parents paid for me to have lessons for a good seven years. And that honestly led to me having a mentor who changed my life and the way I look at music and everything. And GG very decidedly did not have that experience. So I feel like it doesn’t matter, but it also can just help when it’s there.
GG: I feel like it’s dependent on your interests. The resources can definitely help, but if you fuck with what you’re doing, then you’re gonna do it well.
HT: How do you feel about the categorization of Black art? Like Afropunk, for example. Or going to a bookstore and seeing the African American section.
Pierce: Well,Afropunk is a damn-near meaningless term. I feel like the conversation that we would need to have about Afropunk, and just that term, and the festival around it, is longer than ten minutes will allow. [That term] doesn’t really represent anything that it originally was meant to. I don’t know, that’s just what I have to say.
HT: Afterlife. Does it exist?
TJ: I feel like when you die, you’re done. I think this is all we got.
Pierce: I feel like the afterlife could exist, like energy is never destroyed, it’s only transferred type-beat. Heaven to me is kind of a selfish idea. We’re already given the chance of heaven here, and we’re fucking it up. But I do think hell is real.
Pierce: I think reincarnation is real. It could be real. You go back into the soil, come out a whole new nigga.
HT: If I like you guys, who else should I listen to?
TJ: They’re just gonna start running software to generate jingles and shit. It’s gonna be an AI world.
GG: We’re gonna be able to Airdrop with our minds.
Pierce: I think everything will be… Like, genres will become much more merged together, and I think Black music will simply be a single genre that artists just do different traditions simultaneously within the same song.
HT: Will white people be able to make Black music?
The power of pardons can be life-changing. Take, for example, the saga of star Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill with law enforcement. The facts—and allegations—intertwined with the Dreams & Nightmares chart-topper’s criminal record is fodder that’ll likely fuel his verses for decades to come.
That’s because Mill (born Robert Williams) has a story that stretches back more than a decade and is fraught with examples of a badly broken legal system. From suffering mistreatment at the hands of police officers at the age of 18 to later becoming the central figure in an extraordinary case centered on the conditions of his parole, Mill’s luck with the law had been exceedingly rotten entering into 2023.
Good News, At Last
But recently, Meek Mill finally got some good news on the legal front. On January 14, the famed battle rapper took to Instagram to share an image of what appears to be an official notice from the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. In the caption, Mill seemingly confirmed what the image suggests: that he’d received a pardon in relation to the 2008 charges of weapon possession and drug possession that subsequently led to his highly publicized probation ordeals.
“Thank [y’all],” Mill wrote beneath the picture. “I’m only gone do more for my community on god!”
Mill’s post arrived alongside a simultaneous release from the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe, who proudly declared he’d just issued 369 new pardons to eligible Pennsylvanians. Per the release, all individuals receiving a pardon will be given “total forgiveness by the state for a criminal conviction.”
As a result, Mill’s criminal record will also be expunged, bringing a welcome end to a dark journey that included a six-month prison sentence the rapper was forced to serve in 2017-18.
Following his experiences, Meek Mill has become a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform. He’s spoken about how the American prison system treats people of color on numerous platforms, including a primetime television appearance with Lester Holt and NBC’s Dateline and the release of the 2019 documentary, Free Meek.
Many also supported the artist’s cause via the hashtag #FreeMeek, which went viral as part of a public campaign to see the rapper released from prison.
Pushing Pennsylvania Pardons
But pardons are about far more than generating likes on Instagram. As Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe stated, they also represent an invaluable second chance.
“I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” said Gov. Wolf via his office’s press release. “Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”
This latest pardon news also reflects well on Gov. Wolfe, who has now issued a total of 2,540 pardons during his tenure. Of that number, close to 400 were reportedly issued under an expedited review process established specifically for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.
Encompassing crimes as basic as simple possession of cannabis or related paraphernalia, a criminal record of any severity can prove to be a massive barrier for those looking to return to the workforce and otherwise move forward. Pardons, thus, represent a second chance—and one Gov. Wolfe wants to see provided to a greater percentage of eligible Pennsylvanians who stand to benefit.
The Biden Influence
Representing the most pardons ever granted by a governor in the history of Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolfe’s numbers also tower over those achieved by President Joe Biden—thus far.
In December 2022, advocates of a mass pardon approach were dismayed to learn that President Biden had granted only a half-dozen pardons as part of his end-of-year clemency actions. Previously, there were signs of optimism following the President’s move in November to issue pardons to around 6,500 Americans with federal cannabis possession offenses, as well as those with comparable convictions in Washington, D.C.
While it was hoped that the President’s earlier actions would be followed by larger, more consequential efforts, the Biden Administration instead chose to issue only six pardons to close out 2022. The small number of pardons stands in stark contrast with a recent Data for Progress survey which found an impressive 52% of Americans agreed, either strongly or in part, that “people of color are unfairly punished for possession of marijuana compared to white people.” Couple that data with the ACLU’s findings that Black people are, on average, four times as likely as a white person to be arrested over a cannabis offense, and therein lies advocates’ evidence to support the urgent need for more pardons.
Many Pennsylvania residents with nonviolent cannabis offenses will be given a second chance, and the most recent batch of pardons is a promising and much-needed signal of relief.
In a Jan. 12 announcement, Gov. Tom Wolf granted 369 additional pardons, bringing his total to 2,540. Nearly 400 of those pardons were provided under an expedited review process for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.
“I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact. Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it,” said Gov. Wolf.
“A record prevents positive forward motion in a person’s life, and can spark a repetitive cycle of defeat. I firmly believe that with restored rights, pardoned Pennsylvanians prove themselves by stepping up and giving back to our communities.”
These 2,540 pardons are the most granted by a governor in the history of Pennsylvania. Before Gov. Wolf, Gov. Ed Rendell held the record with 1,122 pardons granted.
Among Gov. Wolf’s pardons, 395 of those were part of the expedited review process for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses and 232 were a part of the PA Marijuana Pardon Project.
In 2019, the Board of Pardons introduced and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman authorized the Expedited Review Program for Nonviolent Marijuana-Related Offenses, a program to speed up the pardon application process for people with nonviolent cannabis possession or paraphernalia convictions.
PA Marijuana Pardon Project is a one-time, large-scale pardoning project for people with select minor, non-violent cannabis criminal convictions. The project is spearheaded by Gov. Wolf and former Lieutenant Gov. Fetterman, and was announced on Sept. 1, 2022, providing a faster way of the process.
“Nobody should be turned down for a job, housing, or volunteering at your child’s school because of some old nonviolent weed charge, especially given that most of us don’t even think this should be illegal,” Fetterman said at the time. Fetterman now serves as U.S. senator from Pennsylvania after assuming office on Jan. 3.
In legal terms, a pardon constitutes total forgiveness by the state for a criminal conviction, regardless of whether the sentence included time in prison, and allows for expungement of the related criminal record. Applying for a pardon is free for individuals seeking clemency, and the change was made during the Wolf Administration. Under the administration, the pardons process was modernized so that the application process is more streamlined, and the application fees are now waived. The application can be downloaded online and the process does not require a lawyer.
A report released in 2020 by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia—analyzing 10 years of pardons data—found that pardons contributed $16.5 million to Pennsylvania’s economy over the past decade at “no cost to anyone.”
The governor has shown consistent support for cannabis over the past several years, after coming around to it more recently. On Twitter in 2021, Gov. Tom Wolf reiterated his call to end pot prohibition in Pennsylvania. It’s a change in tune for Wolf, who in 2017 said that Pennsylvania wasn’t ready to legalize recreational pot use. Two of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, New Jersey and New York, helped push the state into adopting its own cannabis market.
Gov. Wolf has served for two terms in his leadership role. The governor’s Priorities for Pennsylvania is helping to fuel Pennsylvania’s economic comeback, and the latest round of pardons is helping to further improve his image.
The effort to reform the nation’s cannabis laws made new strides in 2022 with the passage of recreational marijuana legalization ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri in the November midterm elections. Success was not universal, however, as similar propositions on the ballot in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota failed to gain the approval of voters.
Looking at 2023, new milestones have already been achieved this year, with Connecticut launching regulated retail sales of adult-use cannabis on January 10, a move that was preceded by the expungement of nearly 43,000 marijuana-related convictions in the state at the dawn of the new year. And as we head further into 2023, several states across the country are likely to make new ground in the struggle to end cannabis prohibition.
A New Focus
Brian Vicente, a founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm, Vicente Sederberg LLP, says that despite spending millions of dollars on lobbying federal lawmakers in 2022, the efforts of cannabis activists were unable to result in the passage of any meaningful marijuana policy reform at the next level. With the change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., efforts this year will take a new focus.
“With Republicans taking over the House, any federal reform in the two years seems exceedingly unlikely. Fortunately, movement leaders have begun coalescing around a strategy to cut back on federal lobbying and instead push resources toward state-level reform,” Vicente said in an email. “These efforts are aiming to flip as many as 10 states to adult-use in just three years, which would not only open new markets for consumers, but also create intense pressure on Congress to pass legislation aligning federal law with the thirty-odd states where cannabis is legal for adults.”
As the new year begins, more than a half-dozen states are likely to consider legislation to reform their marijuana laws, with most activity centering in the South and Midwest regions. Outside those broad areas, Hawaii could be poised to make progress on the issue with a new governor at the helm, Democrat Josh Green, who included support for expanding the state’s current legalization of medical marijuana to include adult-use cannabis as part of his campaign for office last year. On January 11, Democratic state Rep. Jeanné Kapela announced her plans to introduce a recreational marijuana legalization bill, saying, “this year, we stand on the precipice of history.”
“We now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” Kapela said in a statement quoted by Marijuana Moment. “Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of moralities.”
Snowden Stieber, a regulatory analyst with cannabis compliance technology firm Simplifya, notes that the bill has some hurdles to clear before it can get to Green’s desk, however.
“The Hawaii Senate President, Ron Kouchi, has already come out with statements expressing skepticism on any fast movement for cannabis legalization, and many elected officials are still waiting on the upcoming report from the Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force to guide their votes in the new year,” he said in an email. “While it is of course possible that the task force recommends full legalization, prior experience in other states would suggest that legislators will take their time with any report’s findings and that a sudden move toward legalization is unlikely.”
Vicente believes three states in the South—Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina—could pass legislation to legalize medical marijuana this year. With the nearby states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida already demonstrating that a regulated marijuana industry can provide jobs and tax revenue, other states in the region are likely not far behind.
South Carolina, where Rep. Nancy Mace has become one of the few Republicans in Congress advocating for cannabis policy reform at the national level, is one of the few remaining states that still hasn’t legalized marijuana in any form. But reform is popular with the state’s residents, with a Winthrop University poll conducted before last year’s midterm elections showing that more than 75% of voters support the legalization of medical cannabis. This year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pre-filed separate medical marijuana legalization bills for the 2023 legislative session. But Simplifya regulatory analyst Justin Bedford isn’t optimistic about the fate of the legislation.
“Though these may seem like promising developments, history suggests that South Carolina still has a long way to go before any form of commercial legalization occurs,” he wrote in an email. “All 14 cannabis-related bills that were deliberated during the 2022 legislative session failed to pass, with most dying in the early stages of development. Nothing has changed in the state’s sociopolitical environment that would suggest anything will be different this year.”
In North Carolina, the state Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in June 2022, but the House of Representatives declined to take up the legislation. Brian Fitzpatrick, chairman and CEO of cannabis software developer Qredible Inc, notes that public support for medical marijuana legalization is strong, and if a bill makes it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, he’s likely to sign it into law.
“A poll carried out in January 2021 by Elon University found that 73% of North Carolinians supported medical cannabis,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “A subsequent poll in May 2022 showed that support had increased to 82% across bipartisan lines. I believe that the governor is aware of this and will fully support the legalization of a medical cannabis bill in 2023.”
In Kentucky, where an executive order from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear decriminalizing medical marijuana went into effect on New Year’s Day, a bill to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis was unveiled by lawmakers on January 7. The measure, Senate Bill 51, would legalize and regulate the “possession, cultivation, production, processing, packaging, transportation, testing, marketing, sale and use of medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis,” according to a report from the online resource Business Insurance. With Kentucky being one of the nation’s largest hemp producers, industry insiders believe the legislation has a good chance of success this year.
The Midwest and Surrounding States
Several states in the Midwest could make advancements in cannabis policy reform in 2023. In Ohio, voters could get the chance to vote on a cannabis legalization measure championed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which was kept off the ballot for the November midterm election after legal challenges. Last week, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced the proposal, which would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and levy a 10% tax on commercial cannabis products. If the state legislature doesn’t approve the measure within four months, the coalition can collect signatures to put the proposal before the votes in the fall. Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of cannabis commerce platform Jushi, believes legalization efforts have an even chance of success in Ohio this year.
“It is very unlikely that the legislature acts on the initiated stature in the next four months, but reasonably likely that the Coalition will be able to gather the additional required signatures for the effort to make the ballot,” he says. “While polling would suggest a ballot initiative legalizing cannabis would pass, the Senate president and other legislators disagree. And, even if voters approved an initiated statute, the legislature would have unrestricted authority to repeal or materially revise legalization.”
Like Hawaii, Pennsylvania has a new governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has expressed support for legalizing recreational marijuana. The issue has been stymied in years past by Republican lawmakers, but a new Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives may help the chances at success.
“While we’ve heard some interest from both sides of the aisle in previous years, conversations about legalization seem to be happening among a much larger group of legislators with increased frequency and specificity,” Woloveck says. “It also sounds like many legislators, including several previously unwilling to engage in any cannabis-related discussions, now acknowledge something has to be done about the illicit market and to stop revenue from flowing to neighboring states where people can buy legal, regulated cannabis for non-medical purposes.”
After legalizing low-potency THC edibles last year, cannabis policy experts say Minnesota could be the most likely state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2023. The state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is now in charge of both the legislative and executive branches of government, and party leaders including Gov. Tim Walz have said that cannabis legalization will be a priority for 2023. Last Wednesday, a bill sponsored by DFL lawmakers Rep. Zack Stephenson and Sen. Lindsey Port received the approval of a legislative committee, with more hearings on the measure to come.
In Oklahoma, where 10% of adults hold cards to participate in the state’s liberal medical marijuana program, voters will decide on a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in March. If passed, State Question 820 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The measure also contains provisions to expunge past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Proponents of the measure had hoped it would appear before voters during the November midterm elections, but a delay in certifying petition signatures and legal challenges from opponents prevented its inclusion on the ballot.
Lawmakers in other states including Georgia and Delaware could also take up measures to legalize marijuana this year, although the prospects for success in 2023 seem unlikely given the political climate in those states. But progress in cannabis policy will probably continue if the trend seen over the last decade goes on.
“Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis, we’ve seen an average of two states per year pass adult-use laws,” Vicente notes. “I predict that 2023 will continue this trend with both Oklahoma and Minnesota looking very likely to legalize.”
Santa headed southeast from Pittsburg, stopping briefly at the Free Store founded by Gisele Fetterman in Braddock, Pennsylvania, dropping off a load of previously loved bicycles.
He’d followed the calling of service of Gisele since she was a young woman. Relocating to Pennsylvania to work beside her now-husband, John Fetterman, while he was Mayor of the town; then supporting him as Lieutenant General of the state as Pennsylvania’s Second Lady; still by his side today, supporting his successful run as State Senator.
Santa knew a good egg when he saw one, and he couldn’t wait to meet the woman beloved in her state. So loved is she that the mantra, “Vote for Gisele’s husband,” was commonly heard throughout the campaign.
He was also aware she was honest about her medicinal use of cannabis for chronic pain after a series of accidents throughout her life, advocating that her state legalize the plant alongside her husband.
At Home with History
Santa steered Rudolph toward the rooftop of the Fetterman’s home.
So proud of his state’s history of steel, Sen. Fetterman converted the former Superior Motors building across the street from the Edgar Thomson Steel Works into his family home. The mill was the first to lay railroad tracks across the country, and the pride factor for Fetterman was strong.
Superior Motors was one of the country’s first indoor car dealerships, with an old Chevy needing to be removed via a crane from their soon-to-be-home.
Gisele Fetterman lay next to her sleeping husband thinking about the holiday at hand, her children fast asleep, her husband’s newly-appointed position as State Senator and all that implied for the future of her family and their beloved state.
Not a creature was stirring when she heard a bump in the night on the rooftop.
Glancing over at her husband’s 6’8” frame, giggling at the sight of his feet protruding off the end of the bed, with his head covered by a blanket as he slept soundly, she tiptoed up toward the rooftop to see what was the matter.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she could barely believe what she saw.
“Ho, ho, ho!” didn’t mean to startle you,” Santa said, gingerly stepping down and out of the sled, as the reindeer made themselves comfortable on the expansive rooftop.
“I’m not opposed to miracles,” Gisele said with an unsure smile. “Just give me a minute to take it all in.”
“Well, I’m no miracle, just spreading the love of giving, just like you,” he replied. “My hope is that you are as excited to meet me as I am to meet you. You are one of our people. Your selfless and loving ways have not been missed by my missus either.”
Santa pulled out a small dropper bottle of tincture from his pocket and offered it to Gisele, who was now fondly stroking Rudolph’s nose.
“You probably haven’t thought of this, but my lower back can get a bit sore sitting upon this wooden sled,” he said with a seriousness in his voice that surprised her. “The elves started growing hemp up at the North Pole, and Mrs. Claus makes this tincture. She wanted you to have a bottle.”
The Hemp tincture made by Mrs. Claus, was made using high cannabidiol (CBD) and low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound counts, and was hybridized by the late, great, Lawrence Ringo of Southern Humboldt County at the top of Northern California.
Ringo hybridized low THC plants together for his own chronic back pain, into what he referred to as the “God plant,” as the original cannabis plant said to be found in Holy Anointing Oil from the Bible did not have the high THC count we have today. Yet, the plant referred to as hemp, still has the full cannabinoid and terpene profile of the cannabis plant as a superfood, and highly medicinal without the high.
“Both Frankincense and Myrrh are highly medicinal,” Santa informed. “Not just incense for the Baby Jesus. I don’t think most people understand that about most plants, or why they brought medicine to the child in the manger.”
Gisele understood this and graciously accepted the small bottle with gratitude. But, she was also a bit stunned. It was a lot to take in. Santa, a cannabis advocate – the Elves as farmers, Mrs. Claus an apothecary, weed in Holy Annointing Oil?
This man in a red suit flying through the air offered up more than physical gifts on Christmas Eve, she thought – pondering gifting him extra cookies by the hearth next year.
She also knew in her heart, if her gentle giant of a husband could win State Senate – wearing his signature sweatshirt, perennial shorts in the winter and sneakers, then anything is possible. Hell, her very existence in this life, in this country, was a crapshoot to begin with.
Silent Night, Holy Night
“I read that you have three strikes against you,” Santa continued. “You began your life in this country as an illegal immigrant – you are a woman, and a cannabis patient.”
“Yes, that’s right – with these thick eyebrows, they just don’t know what to make of me,” she laughed, as Santa chuckled along. “But, I believe that education is everything when it comes to cannabis. It’s been misunderstood for a very long time.”
“So many have realized the plant as medicine, it’s true,” he pondered. “When you think about it, I too am illegal. Each year I cross borders for the greater good of making children happy by giving illegally imported gifts! I pay no tariffs. My reindeer aren’t even documented to be in the U.S., but here we are. There are double standards everywhere, in every country.”
The two had a good laugh at Santa’s perspective, and Gisele had to agree, they were quite the pair.
The stars in the sky shined brightly above Braddock, as the two took in this very special Christmas Eve together.
“I’m thankful for you, Santa,” Gisele said lovingly. “And for Mrs. Claus and the Elves – and these beautiful animals. And a plant that helps us both.”
“And I’m thankful for you and your good works,” he repled. “‘If everyone gives, no one goes without.’ That’s what Mrs. Claus always reminds me – especially on those days that seem darkest of all. It’s not easy being misunderstood in this world. It’s not easy watching people go without. And it’s not easy watching people suffer in pain, because this plant isn’t available to them. Thank you for your advocacy, Gisele.”
In the distance they could hear the bells of Saints Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church ringing in the blessings of Christmas Eve. The steel mill across the street was quiet, as Gisele’s family slept peacefully in their beds, unaware of the magic taking place up on the roof.
Santa got back up on his sled and commanded his crew to head toward the City of Love, Philadelphia.
“Wish us luck, we are heading right into Kensington,” Santa said with a wave, blowing a kiss to the State Senator’s wife. “Oh, and you have a little surprise at the Free Store, we dropped off some bicycles!”
“God Bless you, Santa – and God bless the souls of Kensington,” Gisele waved back, then put her hands together in prayer, lifting them up to the jolly man. Then she blew a kiss towards him into the twinkling Braddock night sky.
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Santa called back.