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Washington governor to pardon marijuana possession convictions

By Allen Cone
Mark Lucas (L) counts money to purchase marijuana as Cannabis City employee Pam Fenstermacher talks to him about his purchase at the first legal recreational marijuana store on July, 8, 2014 in Seattle. On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he will offer pardons with misdemeanor marijuana convictions before recreation pot became legal. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/e416cc15f76cef7fd2608d1dcfe85fea/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Mark Lucas (L) counts money to purchase marijuana as Cannabis City employee Pam Fenstermacher talks to him about his purchase at the first legal recreational marijuana store on July, 8, 2014 in Seattle. On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he will offer pardons with misdemeanor marijuana convictions before recreation pot became legal. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will offer pardons to several thousand people who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession before recreational pot became legal in the state.

Inslee announced the plan, called the Marijuana Justice Initiative, on Friday at the Washington State Cannabis Summit in Seattle, an annual conference sponsored by the legal marijuana industry.

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"We shouldn't be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in Washington state," Inslee said at the event. "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."

The governor's office estimates 3,500 people will be eligible for pardons that fit the criteria.

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Washington State Patrol will remove convictions from the criminal history reports available to the public, though the records will remain available to law enforcement, according to a summary of the pardon plan provided by the governor's office. Offenders will need to petition to have information removed from court files.

The city of Seattle already is expunging old marijuana records.

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Inslee said a pardon of a marijuana possession conviction can reduce barriers to housing, employment, student loans, credit scores and even the ability to participate in a child or grandchild's school field trip.

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Inslee's constitutional clemency authority applies to those with a single conviction on an otherwise clean criminal record. The conviction must have been prosecuted under state law in Washington, and have occurred between January 1, 1998, and Dec. 5, 2012, when voters approved the marijuana legalization measure called I-502.

Islee opposed the measure when he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2012.

But he has since changed his stance. Last year he said "we've got the best weed in the United States of America" to talk-show host Bill Maher.

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Inslee's pardon plan was motivated in part by the disproportionate impact of drug convictions on people of color, Sheri Sawyer, a senior policy adviser to the governor, told the Seattle Times.

Seattle Hempfest general manager Sharon Whitson said the plan doesn't go far enough because each application must go through the governor's office.

"While it's a wonderful gesture, it won't pardon everybody," Whitson said during the summit. "They really do need to look at it all the way up the scale."

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The governor said it's a good first step, and the state legislature should also take action on the issue.

"It would give me the sense of freedom that I wouldn't have to explain myself every time it comes up," Tony Kurek, who has been in recovery from drug addiction for 13 years, said in a posting by the governor's office. "It would be a great relief to not have to discuss it or defend myself for the mistakes I made in the past. Clearly, I'm not making those mistakes anymore."

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