Washington State legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and criminal penalties finally are catching up.

According to a recent article in The Seattle Times, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill pertaining to marijuana convictions. Once the new law takes effect, most people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions will be able to have those convictions erased. To be clear, recreational marijuana is legal in Washington. However, people convicted of marijuana offenses prior to legalization continue to face criminal consequences. Indeed, many Seattle residents must identify themselves as having a criminal record for an offense that is lawful in 2019.

The new law requires judges to grant a person’s request to vacate any misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

To be eligible, the person making the request must have been 21 or older at the time of the offense. Governor Inslee stressed the importance of the new law, and its emphasis in fairness and justice. Indeed, Inslee underscored how it is illogical to punish Washington State residents for past crimes that no longer are illegal.

Legislators previously proposed measures to vacate or pardon marijuana misdemeanor offenses in the state. With pardons, a person only could ask a judge to vacate a single marijuana conviction. Additionally, that person could not have a record of any other criminal convictions. However, the new law applies more broadly to those with misdemeanor marijuana records and allows more people to erase convictions. It does not require a person to have a clean criminal record outside the misdemeanor marijuana offense.

When a judge vacates a conviction, that conviction no longer appears in a person’s criminal record. Further, the person does not have to disclose vacated convictions on employment applications or housing applications. Anyone with a vacated conviction may state that she or he has not been convicted of the vacated crime. The new law coincides with Governor Inslee’s decision to create a pardoning process for past marijuana convictions.

According to Seattle criminal defense attorney Lennard A. Nahajski, the legislation is a significant step forward. As Nahajski emphasized, “Seattle residents with misdemeanor marijuana convictions suffer unfair consequences given that Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.” Indeed, many Seattle residents with misdemeanor marijuana convictions continue to face repercussions of having a criminal record. However, once the new law takes effect, those residents will be able to erase their damaging criminal records.

The new law takes effect in July 2019. It covers marijuana misdemeanor convictions for state ordinances and municipal ordinances in the state. For help with a criminal defense case contact the Nahajski Firm or call 206-621-0500.