People convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession will be able to apply for an expedited pardon through an online system launched on Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is considering a run for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Along with Colorado, recreational marijuana use for adults aged 21 and over has been legal in Washington State since 2012, when voters passed Initiative 502. Eight other states have since followed suit.
Gov. Inslee said his new Marijuana Justice Initiative will offer pardons to adults with a single misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession between 1998 and 2012 on an otherwise clean record. About 3,500 individuals are eligible for a pardon, according to the governor’s office.
Righting past wrongs
Inslee hopes the Marijuana Justice Initiative will relieve the undue burden of a past criminal conviction.
“We shouldn’t be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in Washington state,” Inslee said. “Forgiving these convictions can help lessen their impact and allow people to move on with their lives. It’s a small step, but one that moves us in the direction of correcting these injustices.”
Minor marijuana-related convictions disproportionately affects African-Americans and hampers an individual’s ability to find employment, housing, and loans, and to utilize some services.
“We have people who have this burden on their shoulders from a simple, one-time marijuana possession from maybe 20 years ago, and that’s impeding the ability of people to live their lives,” Inslee said in an interview with NBC News. “It can damage their ability to get financing for a home; it can damage their ability to get financing for colleges, even simple things like going on a field trip with your kids.”
An expedited pardoning process
The expedited process under Inslee’s initiative allows eligible adults to skip the lengthier process of making a request to the state’s Clemency and Pardon’s board. Instead, individuals fill out an online application on the governor’s website.
“Once the Office of the Governor reviews the case and confirms they are eligible, Inslee will pardon the conviction and ask Washington State Patrol to remove the offense from the criminal history report that is available to the public,” a statement from the governor’s office reads.
Individuals who have received pardons must still state on job applications that they have been convicted of a crime. They can, however, now indicate that they have been pardoned.
The governor’s office also noted that a prior marijuana conviction will still be visible to law enforcement following a pardon. To have a conviction fully vacated, the individual must seek relief directly from the courts.
Seattle already overturned the convictions of more than 500 people last September for marijuana possession.
All seven judges on the city’s municipal court agreed to vacate convictions from 1996 to 2010 for misdemeanor marijuana possession, saying that they disproportionately impacted people of color.
Of the more than 500 cases cited, 46% involved African-American defendants, the judges said in their ruling. As of July 2017, the population of Seattle was about 7% African-American, according to US Census data.
Washington State isn’t alone in overturning convictions. As more and more states have eased laws relating to marijuana, several counties and cities have led the way in simplifying the process of clearing past convictions.
California lawmakers last summer approved a bill that allows residents to petition the judicial system to have their their marijuana convictions expunged. And in New York, more than 3,000 convictions for marijuana possession dating back to 1978 were dismissed last September.