Governor Jay Inslee is creating an expedited process that would allow about 3,500 people people convicted of minor, non-violent pot charges to apply for and receive a pardon without having to hire a lawyer or go to court, reported the Peninsula Daily News.
“We have people who have this burden on their shoulders from a simple, one-time marijuana possession from maybe 20 years ago, and that’s impeding the ability of people to live their lives,” said Governor Inslee in an interview.
“It can damage their ability to get financing for a home; it can damage their ability to get financing for colleges, even simple things like going on a field trip with your kids. We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal.”
Inslee’s plan appears to be the first that creates a streamlined process for pardoning misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions statewide, though Michigan’s governor-elect, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, has also suggested she will consider doing so.
While Inslee said he did not have data on what percentage of the 3,500 people eligible for pardons are minorities, he cited racial justice as one of his motivations for launching the program, which he called the Marijuana Justice Initiative.
Governor Jay Inslee, who opposed the legalization of cannabis in 2012, recently boasted: "I can honestly say, we've got the best weed in the United States of America."
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.
To be eligible, a person must have been convicted as an adult, and the conviction must be the only one on that person’s record.
Advocates of marijuana law reform welcomed Inslee’s action, but said it could have gone further, noting that people will be eligible to have only a single conviction erased, so those with more than one still will face traditional clemency requirements.
Automatically clearing past convictions or making it easy for people to request pardons is a racial justice issue, considering that blacks and other minorities have historically been arrested for marijuana at disproportionate rates, said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“The governor is sending a strong message here about the ameliorative steps that must be taken to address those injustices,” Clarke said. “I hope there are other states that will follow the governor’s lead here.”