2019 Legislature | Proposed legislation would vacate some marijuana convictions

By Emma Scher
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Some convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession may be able to apply to have the crime vacated from their records.

Individuals would qualify to apply for the vacation if they were at least 21 years old at the time of offense, were convicted under Washington state law, and the misdemeanor is the only conviction on their criminal record.

Those convicted under federal law or local ordinances would not be eligible.

According to the House Bill 1500’s analysis, there are roughly 3,500 individuals who would be eligible to apply to have their records cleared.

“There’s no question that misdemeanor marijuana possession was illegal at that time, but the voters of our state stated very clearly … that they no longer felt the possession of small amounts of marijuana should be a crime for people over 21,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien. “I think that that’s a really logical and compassionate step that we can take.”

In January, Gov. Jay Inslee announced an initiative to grant clemency to individuals in the same situation.

A vacation goes a step further than clemency. According to the governor’s office, a pardon is noted on someone’s record, but doesn’t wipe it completely. If vacated, the conviction would not need to be disclosed on employment or housing applications, and could not be used as part of a person’s criminal history in sentencing in a later conviction.

In September, Seattle municipal court judges ordered the convictions to be set aside. According to the court opinion, the court’s possession of marijuana charges disproportionately impacted people of color. The court notified those who were eligible under the motion given “its potential to impact the rights of the defendant.”

HB 1500 was scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 14. Its companion bill, SB 5605, was scheduled for executive session in the Senate Committee on Law & Justice on Feb. 14.

 

This story is part of a series of reports from the Washington State Legislature provided by a news team sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.