‘Pardon boxes’ are helping people expunge marijuana crimes from their records

cannabis pardon box
"Cannabis pardon boxes" in Montgomery County aim to help people through the process of erasing marijuana crimes from their records. Photo credit Geoff Smith/NORML

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Inside several neglected newspaper racks in Montgomery County, you won’t find today’s top headlines.

Instead, there are copies of the 18-page clemency application needed to expunge marijuana crimes.

Members of the Montco chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, are repurposing old newspaper boxes into “cannabis pardon boxes” to help people erase marijuana crimes from their records.

“We found a couple of (boxes) that had trees growing out of them and we just grabbed them and restored them,” said Geoff Smith with NORML.

The boxes are painted and labeled “PARDON ME.” They’re located at a few places so far, like the Lansdale Public Library, the Ambler SEPTA Station and the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown.

“I just thought it would be a great idea that we could leave somewhere, especially in front of the courthouse that is still prosecuting marijuana crimes in a decriminalized town now,” said Smith.

Marijuana was decriminalized in Norristown in 2019.

cannabis pardon boxes
"Cannabis pardon boxes" in Montgomery County. Photo credit Geoff Smith/NORML
cannabis pardon boxes
Geoff Smith with the Montgomery County chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is helping create "cannabis pardon boxes" around town. Photo credit Geoff Smith/NORML

Cathie Cashman, head of TerraVida VOWD, or Victims of the War on Drugs, said cannabis crimes are taking an economic toll.

“This will preclude (people) from getting student loans, getting hired in certain jobs,” she said. “You may have been 18 and been caught with a joint, and I can’t hire you.”

She said thousands of Pennsylvanians can benefit from getting cannabis crimes erased from their records.

“There are people in prison for marijuana that I could have in my purse right now,” Cashman added. “People have been convicted of crimes with marijuana that I can go into a dispensary right now and purchase.”

Cashman praised Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is pro-cannabis, but acknowledges that the system as a whole has a long way to go.

“We can all be excited about legalization,” she said. “But at the same time, we have to look at prisons and families that have been broken because of this. We have to look at everything that is a social justice issue. We have to look at every legalization bill that would come across the House and Senate desk.”

She said it’s time to address the inequity in state laws. State Sen. Maria Collett of the 12th District, which represents parts of Montgomery and Bucks counties, has joined that fight.

“We just started to partner with Montco NORML about how we can find more of these boxes around the 12th District,” she said. “We are talking to Bucks County NORML to get some of the boxes in Bucks County, too.”

Collett supports the efforts Cashman described.

“There was legislation last session about decriminalization and legalized recreational use. I signed on to that and I look forward to reintroduction this time,” she said.

Based on public polling, Collett said most liked the idea of raising revenue through the regulation of adult-use cannabis, rather than broad tax increases.

“We can decriminalize it and remove these barriers so people are able to really live the best quality of life they have,” she continued, “and not be hampered simply because they have a misdemeanor or certain felony convictions that involve marijuana on their record.”