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Washington Governor Expects to Pardon About 3,500 for Single Misdemeanor Pot Convictions

by Betty Nelander

Washington Governor Jay Inslee aims to nip draconian marijuana incarceration in the bud — at least for those behind bars for possessing a small amount of it.

“We shouldn’t be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in Washington state,” he tweeted. “It is time to end marijuana injustice in our state. #marijuanajustice”

A new program in the state of Washington will allow thousands of people who have a single misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction to be pardoned. About 3,500 are expected to be eligible.

The Marijuana Justice Initiative, announced by Inslee January 4, 2019, says the conviction must have been prosecuted in Washington (by the state, rather than local ordinance) between January 1, 1998, and December 5, 2012.

Inslee discussed his recent initiative at a cannabis industry summit in SeaTac, south of Seattle. Washington, in fact, was one of the first states to legalize pot for recreational use for adults, although it is an illegal narcotic under federal law.

Inslee puts forth a streamlined process to permit people to apply for and receive a pardon without having to hire an attorney or go to court.

“In Washington, people will be able to use a simple form on the governor’s website to ask for a pardon of a single conviction dating as far back as 1998,” reports. The applicant will need to give the jurisdiction where the offense took place, the court case number, and date of conviction.

Minorities will benefit most given that a disproportionate number are incarcerated for minor marijuana offenses, despite similar rates of pot use across races.

“Forgiving these convictions will allow people to move on with their lives,” Inslee’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.”

Others agreed. “This is a necessary first step for repairing the racially disparate harms of marijuana prohibition,” Jolene Forman, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “This will give thousands of people a fresh start to pursue education and employment without the stain of a criminal conviction.”

Their record, however, will remain with police. “A pardon does not vacate or seal a person’s criminal conviction, according to the governor’s office,” reports. “While it removes the conviction from publicly available criminal history reports, it will still be available to law enforcement.”

Whether the initiative will one day go beyond the single marijuana violation remains to be seen.  



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