In late 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis. Now, just over six years later, Washington is going one step further and offering pardons to people with misdemeanor cannabis convictions who were charged before it was legalized.
In January, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the pardons as part of his new Marijuana Justice Initiative. “We should not be punishing people for something that is no longer an illegal behavior in the state of Washington,” he said.
According to the governor’s office, around 3,500 people are eligible, but those pardons won’t happen automatically. Inslee’s deputy general counsel, Tip Wonhoff, says people need to fill out an online form to begin the process.
“We designed the web form to be completed in 90 seconds. It’s very simple,” Wonhoff said. “Once the petitioner completes that and submits it to our office, then we take over.”
The petitioner’s convictions must also meet certain requirements to be eligible for pardon, including having been at least 21 years old at the time of the conviction and having the misdemeanor cannabis charge be the sole conviction on their criminal record.
But as Wonhoff noted, a pardon isn’t the same thing as having your criminal record expunged.
“Individuals who received pardons from the governor still have a criminal record,” he said. “What a pardon will do is allow those individuals to state in their applications for employment or in their applications for housing that they have received a pardon from the governor for those offenses.”
Since the launch of the program last month, Wonhoff said more than 160 people have filed for clemency and more than a dozen pardons have already been issued.
“There’s no deadline to apply,” Wonhoff said. “So any individuals who apply will be processed as those petitions arrive to us.”
Hear the full conversation from OPB’s “All Things Considered” in the audio player above.