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200,000 misdemeanor pot possession charges would be dropped under Washington bill

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 13, 2019

At Pacific NW Medical, a marijuana dispensary in North Spokane, medical marijuana dries on a line in a processing area. Photographed Thursday, Sept. 13, 2013. The state Legislature is considering a bill in the 2019 session that would erase some marijuana convictions on records since the state legalized medical marijuana in 1998. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
At Pacific NW Medical, a marijuana dispensary in North Spokane, medical marijuana dries on a line in a processing area. Photographed Thursday, Sept. 13, 2013. The state Legislature is considering a bill in the 2019 session that would erase some marijuana convictions on records since the state legalized medical marijuana in 1998. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington could wipe out as many as 200,000 convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession for adults who don’t have anything else on their criminal records.

A proposal in the Senate calls for automatic clemency for anyone over 21 convicted of marijuana possession after Jan. 1, 1998, the year voters legalized the drug for medicinal use. A person with multiple misdemeanor marijuana possession charges would be eligible for having their record wiped clean, but a person with any other crime on their record would not.

“Things that are legal now should be vacated from previous convictions,” said Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-West Seattle. “This is really a matter of equity and justice.”

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, a former law enforcement officer, said he generally agrees with “getting rid of obstacles that don’t serve any purpose.” Although wiping a person’s record clean would have been a simple thing 50 years ago, he said, today that information could remain available on social media and elsewhere on the internet, even if it’s cleared from court records.

“Everybody can find this information,” Holy said.

Nguyen said the Legislature should consider this a good first step and “control what we can control.”

A representative from the Cannabis Alliance, a group of marijuana-based businesses, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee it supports Nguyen’s bill.

But the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the state already has a process for vacating past convictions by going back to court. The group questions the ability of someone with multiple convictions to have his or her record wiped clean, spokesman James McMahan said.

Gov. Jay Inslee also has instituted a process for people with a single misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions to apply online for a pardon, he said.

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