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New Washington Law Will Erase Old Cannabis Convictions

May 14, 2019
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic candidate for president, listens Wednesday, March 6, 2019, as he takes part in a nonpartisan panel discussion titled "Foreign Affairs and National Security in the Age of Climate Change," hosted by the University of Washington Jackson School and the American Security Project on the UW campus in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Updated May 15, 2019 with comments from state Sen. Joe Nguyen.

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday aimed at erasing old misdemeanor marijuana convictions, seven years after voters in the state approved an initiative that legalized the drug.

Under the new law, judges are required to grant requests to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession charges that occurred before the drug was legalized, provided the defendant was 21 at the time.


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The measure goes further than an earlier marijuana pardon process announced by Inslee, which had stricter eligibility requirements.

“This is a matter of fairness and justice,” Inslee said. “We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in this state.”

The new law will take effect 90 days after the end of this year’s legislative session, which finished up on April 28.

[Leafly editor’s note: State Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), lead sponsor of the bill, confirmed to Leafly that the new procedure will require individuals to file a motion in court in order to have their convictions vacated. By contrast, new expungement efforts in places such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin counties, as well as the city of Seattle, take place automatically, with no action required by eligible individuals. “Our goal was to do an automatic expungement,” Nguyen said, but supporters were concerned that current Washington laws would stand in the way. “In the meantime, we’re going to partner with organizations … to hopefully give people the resources they need.”]

When a conviction is vacated, it is generally removed from a person’s criminal record, and isn’t used as part of the sentencing considerations for any future crime. People with vacated convictions are also not required to mention them on employment or housing applications.


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Advocates have called having to list a prior misdemeanor conviction a major barrier to housing and employment, and part of a system of barriers that can make it difficult for people with even minor crimes to escape a cycle of joblessness and housing issues.

After a conviction has been vacated, a person is allowed to state that they were never convicted of that crime, according to an analysis of the bill prepared by nonpartisan legislative staff.

Monday’s signing followed Inslee announcing in January a streamlined pardon process.

But while the pardons were accessible via a simple online form, they had stricter eligibility requirements: Applicants could only apply for the pardon of a single conviction, it had to be the only conviction on their record, and it applied only to state ordinances.


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The bill also covers municipal ordinances, and doesn’t require an otherwise clean record.

Some disagreed with the change, however.

State Rep. Brad Klippert, a Kennewick Republican who is also a sheriff’s deputy in Benton County, voted against the bill in the state House, and said Monday that he still opposed it.

“At the time they committed the crime, it was a crime,” said Klippert, adding that consequences should be attached to the decision to break the law, even if the law later changed.

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