Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced he will pardon thousands of state residents with misdemeanor marijuana convictions. He recently instituted the Marijuana Justice Initiative (“MJI”), which will expedite the clearances of approximately 3,500 people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes.
This process allows them to receive a pardon without the trouble of hiring an attorney or appearing in court. Inslee points out that such misdemeanor convictions can affect a person's ability to work in certain jobs, obtain housing or student loans and harm a credit score.
Only those with single convictions are eligible for the pardon, and the conviction must have taken place between January 1, 1998, and December 5, 2012. The following day, December 6, Washington became the first state to legalize recreational cannabis.
Medical marijuana use was legalized back in 1998. Fittingly, Inslee made his announcement while attending a cannabis industry summit in SeaTac, not far from Seattle. “We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal,” according to Inslee.
Online Petition Submission
To qualify for the pardon, the convicted person must submit an online petition form, and the governor's office reviews their case. The person cannot face current charges either in Washington or elsewhere, and they must have been prosecuted under state law rather than a local ordinance.
The person must include the conviction date, the court case number and the jurisdiction where the offense occurred.
If eligible, Inslee's office will issue the pardon. The governor's office will then request that the Washington State Patrol removes the conviction from the public record.
As the New York Times notes, this is the first streamlined state plan for pardoning misdemeanor pot possession. However, critics are not happy about the single conviction limitations. Anyone with a second or subsequent conviction must still pursue clemency via the Clemency and Pardons Board.
However, Inslee maintains that beginning with single convictions is a “good first step,” and that other steps may follow.
Washington is not the only state getting rid of weed convictions. A recent California law requires prosecutors to eliminate or reduce approximately 220,000 such convictions. Many cities, including Denver and San Francisco, are clearing old pot convictions, as is New York City – even though cannabis is still illegal in the Empire State.
People of Color Most Impacted
The pardoning of a minor marijuana conviction is also a racial justice issue. Seattle has already overturned the convictions of 500 individuals, nearly half of whom – 46 percent – were African American. That's a striking detail considering the city's population is just 7 percent black.
One reason Seattle's seven municipal court judges agreed to vacate convictions dating from 1996 to 2010 is that they recognized how disproportionately such convictions affected people of color. The MJI does not yet have data on how many people of color are eligible for pardons in the state.
A 2020 Candidate?
Pardoning pot convictions is not the only important recent announcement made by Inslee. He also stated he is considering a run for president in 2020, with a focus on climate change. Under his leadership, Washington leads the nation in job creation.
His plans include investing huge amounts in infrastructure and green employment. His best-known line: “This is the first generation who has felt the damage from climate change, and we are the last generation to be able to do something about it.”