Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks with the media at the annual Washington Cannabis Summit on Friday in SeaTac. Inslee says he plans to pardon thousands of convictions for misdemeanor pot possession. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times via AP)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks with the media at the annual Washington Cannabis Summit on Friday in SeaTac. Inslee says he plans to pardon thousands of convictions for misdemeanor pot possession. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times via AP)

Governor opens pardon process for low-level pot offenders

Inslee’s initiative allows people with a single misdemeanor marijuana conviction to clear their record.

SEATAC — Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday announced a fast-track pardon process to allow thousands of people with low-level marijuana convictions to clear their records.

Anyone with a misdemeanor for simple pot possession in Washington can apply online to have the State Patrol wipe it from their record. Inslee’s office estimates about 3,500 people would be eligible. The move is intended to make life easier for people with a lingering stigma for a crime that Washington voters erased in 2012 by passing the marijuana-legalization measure known as Initiative 502.

“Thousands of people have on their records a criminal conviction for something that is legal today,” Inslee told an audience gathered for the Washington State Cannabis Summit at the Crowne Plaza hotel near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. “This is impairing their ability to reach their dreams and live their lives and raise their children. Those convictions sometimes can impair their ability to finance a house, it can impair their ability to get a shot at a good job, it can stop them even sometimes from taking their kids for a field trip. In itself, having a criminal conviction on your record is just not a healthy thing for people.”

Inslee made the announcement amid serious signs that he’s preparing for a 2020 presidential run. The Democrat formed a Political Action Committee this fall to start raising money and stumped for high-profile progressive candidates this fall.

Inslee’s signature issue has been combating climate change, but the former prosecutor’s pardon for marijuana offenders could suggest another: criminal justice reform.

The governor’s Marijuana Justice Initiative has a website, www.governor.wa.gov/marijuanajustice.

Inslee promised that people would find a streamlined process.

“You won’t need a lawyer,” he said. “You just need to fill out this petition. You won’t need to go to court. You won’t need to wait months in response. You’ll simply need to go to our online process and fill out a short form. And if you meet the simple criteria, which is that this is your only misdemeanor conviction and it happened under Washington state law, I will pardon the simple marijuana possession from your record and it will be removed.”

Only people with a sole conviction as an adult are eligible. It must have occurred between Jan. 1, 1998, and Dec. 5, 2012, when I-502 made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana. Participants must have no other criminal convictions.

People who aren’t eligible for a pardon under the governor’s new program, such as those with two misdemeanors, could apply for a pardon under the normal clemency process.

Early last year, officials in Seattle moved to automatically vacate hundreds of misdemeanor pot convictions handled through municipal court since 1997. That followed a similar step in San Francisco.

In Snohomish County, Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell said marijuana legalization has allowed his colleagues to focus on more urgent cases.

“Since the passage of 502, we’ve been able to shift our resources to prosecuting cases that have a bigger impact on our community, such as violent and sexual assault crimes, DUIs and crimes of domestic violence,” Cornell said. “Those are cases that are more important to creating a safe and livable Snohomish County.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald net.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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