Does Gov. Inslee’s marijuana pardon measure not go far enough?
Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced a measure to grant pardons to certain people with past marijuana convictions in the state, but can it — and should it — take things further? Seattle University law professor Deborah Ahrens thinks so.
“I’m not sure if it does [go far enough],” Ahrens told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross on Seattle’s Morning News. “This is going to be a pardon process that has to be initiated by individuals. You have to know you have an eligible conviction, and then you’d have to go through the pardon process.”
The qualifications to get pardoned come with a handful of caveats.
Any conviction must have been for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession under Washington state law, it must have been between Jan. 1 1998 and Dec. 5 2012, and it must be the only conviction on an individual’s criminal record.
Additionally, it requires anyone who thinks they might qualify to apply through an online portal.
This operates in contrast to states like California, that initiate the pardon process itself.
“Some jurisdictions like California have been more proactive,” Ahrens said. “Instead of requiring an individual to seek out a pardon, they actually have charged the State Department of Justice with seeking out the eligible convictions itself, and initiating the process itself.”
“In other words, it’s not going to be incumbent on individuals to figure out if they might be eligible,” she added.
California’s own measure, approved by the state’s Legislature in 2018, reduces felony marijuana convictions to misdemeanors, and expunges certain misdemeanors, all identified and enacted by the State Justice Department.
Other states have adopted similar measures since legalizing marijuana themselves.
“Other jurisdictions also have been somewhat broader in terms of the kinds of convictions they’d might be willing to either reduce or to expunge,” Ahrens said. “You might not have to have, for example, only one marijuana conviction in order to enjoy the benefits of expungement.”
Seattle even took action itself in 2018, following a request from City Attorney Pete Holmes to vacate convictions and dismiss charges for more than 500 people prosecuted for marijuana possession between 1996 and 2010.
This is especially significant for anyone seeking employment or housing, as criminal convictions of any kind often can affect both.
“About 85 percent of employers say they would never hire someone with a criminal conviction at all, so even a misdemeanor conviction might be prohibitive for an individual who is seeking a job,” Ahrens noted.
Anyone who fits the required criteria for a pardon in Washington state can fill out a form here to request a pardon from the governor’s office.