Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) offered on Friday to pardon potentially thousands of people who have a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction in his state, where weed has long been legal.
Inslee’s new “Marijuana Justice Initiative” will provide pardons on an individual basis to adults who have a single misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession on an otherwise clean record. He announced the plan at an annual event for The Cannabis Alliance, a group that promotes the cannabis industry.
“We shouldn’t be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in Washington state,” Inslee tweeted.
In 2012, Washington was one of the first states to approve legalizing marijuana for recreational use, along with Colorado. Several states have followed suit. Last year, Michigan became the 10th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and more than 30 states have approved the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
Even minor marijuana-related convictions on a person’s criminal record can impede their ability to obtain jobs, housing, loans and other necessary services to get by.
“Forgiving these convictions will allow people to move on with their lives,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This is a small step, but one that moves us in the direction of correcting injustices that disproportionately affected communities of color.”
About 3,500 people are eligible for pardons under the initiative, per the governor’s office.
The initiative is open only to those prosecuted for a single misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession under Washington state law between 1998 and 2012.
Inslee’s initiative includes an expedited process to apply for pardons, allowing people to skip the step of making a request to the state’s Clemency and Pardons Board, which usually reviews requests and then makes recommendations to the governor, the Seattle Times reported.
The governor office’s website includes a form that people can fill out to apply for a pardon.
A pardon does not vacate or seal a person’s criminal conviction, according to the governor’s office. While it removes the conviction from publicly available criminal history reports, it will still be available to law enforcement. And the individual is still not able to legally state on job applications that they haven’t been convicted of a crime ― though they can say they have been pardoned. To have a conviction fully vacated, a person must seek relief directly from the court.
Last year, Seattle Municipal Court ordered around 500 convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession be vacated for people prosecuted between 1996 and 2010, per the Seattle Times.
In early 2017, then-Vermont governor Peter Shumlin (D) pardoned nearly 300 people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions, The New York Times reported.
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