Gov. Jay Inslee took a positive step last week by offering pardons to about 3,500 people haunted by old misdemeanor marijuana convictions.
Still, the governor’s action reaches too few people.
State legislators should build upon this initial effort, so that others with prior convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana can apply to have their records cleared. In a state that has legalized pot possession for adults, this is the right thing to do.
By passing Initiative 502 in 2012, Washington voters made it clear that they don’t think possessing small amounts of marijuana should be a crime for those older than 21.
Yet statewide, there are about 226,000 misdemeanor convictions for pot possession still weighing down people’s criminal records, even though they were over 21 at the time of the offense. That’s according to a 2017 analysis from the Washington State Patrol.
Even though the law has changed, these low-level convictions still show up in common background checks, hindering people’s ability to find housing and land certain jobs.
A plan from state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, would address these thousands of cases that the governor’s initiative leaves out. Fitzgibbon says he will reintroduce legislation this year that would let most people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession apply to have their records vacated.
While only those who were 21 or older when they were caught with pot would qualify under the bill, local courts would have to vacate the convictions upon request. This would go much further than Inslee’s pardons, which are available only to people whose records are clean outside of a single misdemeanor marijuana conviction.
Additionally, Inslee’s offer applies only to those who were convicted of marijuana possession under state law, omitting many others convicted under local ordinances.
The Legislature should not allow tens of thousands of people to continue to suffer consequences for an activity the state no longer considers a crime. Lawmakers should pass something similar to Fitzgibbon’s proposal in the coming months, so more people can clear their names and move on with their lives.