Kicking off 2019 at the Washington State Cannabis Summit, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state’s new Marijuana Justice Initiative, which will allow individuals to submit an online petition to the governor requesting a pardon for certain cannabis-related convictions.
According to a statement issued by the governor’s office, personal cannabis possession in small amounts is no longer considered to be criminal behavior in the state. “The governor’s Marijuana Justice Initiative intends to recognize the evolution of the state’s beliefs about cannabis and, within existing capacity, provide clemency relief to some who have these convictions on their records,” the statement reads. “The initiative will provide an expedited process to grant pardons to people with a single misdemeanor conviction on their criminal record for adult cannabis possession prosecuted under Washington state law.”
Individuals with cannabis convictions will be eligible for clemency under the Marijuana Justice Initiative if those convictions meet the following criteria:
- The conviction must have been an adult (21+) conviction for misdemeanor cannabis possession.
- The individual must have been prosecuted under Washington state law (not a local ordinance, the law of any other state, or federal law).
- The conviction must have occurred between Jan. 1, 1998 and Dec. 5, 2012, when I-502 legalized cannabis possession.
- The conviction must be the sole conviction on the individual’s criminal record.
Individuals who do not meet these criteria will not be eligible for relief through the Marijuana Justice Initiative. The governor’s office estimates that approximately 3,500 individuals will qualify for clemency under the initiative.
The Marijuana Justice Initiative’s clemency program indicates the state’s willingness to take tangible action in repairing the injustices done by cannabis prohibition, and that is commendable. The governor’s office released a statement explaining the purpose and intent of the program: “For decades, people have faced criminal prosecution for behavior that is no longer considered a crime in Washington. Inslee believes that forgiving these convictions will allow people to move on with their lives without these convictions causing additional burdens on people, their families, their employers and their communities. This is a small step, but one that moves us in the direction of correcting injustices that disproportionately affected communities of color. A successful pardon of a cannabis possession conviction can assist with barriers to housing, employment and education.”
The governor’s authority to grant clemency to individuals with cannabis convictions is rooted in Article III, Sections 9 and 11 of the Washington State Constitution, which grant the governor authority to pardon convicted murderers and other criminals “under such regulations and restrictions as may be prescribed by law.” This pardoning power cannot be delegated to any other state official.
“The initiative will provide an expedited process to grant pardons to people with a single misdemeanor conviction on their criminal record for adult cannabis possession prosecuted under Washington state law.”
Hopefully, the Marijuana Justice Initiative will serve as a first step in unburdening the lives of some of the individuals impacted by the state’s cannabis prohibition and perhaps other states will soon follow Washington’s lead in granting clemency under similar circumstances.