SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill 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.
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 Monday. “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 April 28.
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.
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 say 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.
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.