Published May 26, 2021
By Kyle Jaeger
The governor of Pennsylvania on Wednesday pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife.
The daughter of 65-year-old Paul Ezell also faced a conviction and lost her license to be a nurse because she was at the house when police seized the plants in 2014. The state Board of Pardons will vote on whether to make her eligible for gubernatorial clemency next month.
“Here’s a doctor of 30 years who had not so much as a speeding ticket, and then his whole life is ruined for giving his wife medicine that’s now legal in Pennsylvania,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who helped bring attention to the case, said in a press release. “This is a prime example of the destructive power of reefer madness.”
While the pardon could help Ezell, who said he grew the cannabis to give his wife an alternative to prescription opioids, get his own license restored, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the most important thing for him is to ensure that his daughter has her record forgiven.
“He lost his wife, his career, everything,” Fetterman said. “Today, Dr. Ezell can start to rebuild his life. Cases like his illustrate why we must end marijuana prohibition before it destroys one more life.”
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has pardoned 96 people with cannabis convictions to date as part of the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses through the Board of Pardons.
This latest act of clemency comes one week after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state and directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon. Polis signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana
While both Wolf and Fetterman are advocating for marijuana legalization to prevent cases like these from happening in the first place, the reform has not advanced in the GOP-controlled legislature. One Democrat-led bill has been referred to committee this session without further action.
That said, a bipartisan Senate duo is currently crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Outside the legislature, Wolf said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers, however, his formal spending request doesn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
The governor has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor.
Legalization is also popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released last month.
Another poll released earlier this month found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.