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Following in Seattle’s footsteps, Pierce County looks to throw out marijuana convictions

Pierce County wants to throw out misdemeanor marijuana convictions. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Pierce County is joining Seattle in throwing out misdemeanor marijuana convictions handed down before the legalization of marijuana in 2012.

What to know about Seattle’s marijuana misdemeanors

“Our plan is to open the door to make it easier for people to come in and vacate those marijuana convictions,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said.

In February, Seattle said it would clear thousands of minor pot convictions. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called it a necessary step forward to address the harm inflicted by the war on drugs.

Lindquist echoed Durkan’s statement.

“We’re concerned about how these convictions might affect the ability of people to get jobs, get housing, and just generally do the things we hope people will do, right? We don’t want an old marijuana conviction, especially now that it’s legal, to be an obstacle.”

When a conviction is vacated, it will still show up on a criminal record or background check, but not as a conviction.

When employers look into someone’s criminal history, they would see that a prospective employee was brought up on charges but there was no conviction. For those people, they no longer need to check the box asking, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”

The process of vacating these convictions will play out differently than in Seattle. Seattle’s city attorney is asking the Municipal Court to automatically vacate convictions and charges without any action needed on the part of the people convicted. In Pierce County, each case would need to be individually petitioned. Linquist says his office is ready to help with the process.

“We do need a judge to sign off,” he said. Adding that people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions will have to go to the courthouse, fill out paperwork, and get it approved by a judge.

Will the efforts spread to other cities and counties?

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said last month he supports the effort and may be willing to look into clearing felony marijuana convictions. But, “it’s a lot more complicated than pushing a button and making it go away.”

This week, Governor Jay Inslee signed the Washington Fair Chance Act into law. It prevents employers from asking about arrests or criminal convictions on job applications.

Under that Act, employers can only ask about criminal records after they have determined whether a candidate is qualified for a job. The law does not apply to jobs in education, law enforcement, state agencies, and child care.

Drug consumption sites permanently banned

Snohomish County, meanwhile, hasn’t pledged to vacate misdemeanor pot convictions, but officials have said they will no longer prosecute minor drug offenses — for any drug. Officials say they don’t have the staff to meet that demand and that prosecution doesn’t do a thing to stop the cycle of abuse.

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