As cannabis is legalized in more places across the United States, we have begun to see tangible changes in our social, economic, and legal spheres. Obviously, legal (or decriminalized) marijuana has led to decreased numbers of marijuana-related arrests, but questions remain about what to do for people whose past convictions for marijuana-related crimes continue to follow them today.

Seven years ago, Washington legalized the adult use of marijuana and today Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has revealed plans to pardon thousands of convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The Marijuana Justice Initiative allows for an expedited, online application for clemency under the following circumstances:

  • It must be an adult conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession;

  • Prosecuted under Washington state law (RCW), not a local ordinance;

  • The conviction must have occurred between January 1, 1998 and December 5, 2012;

  • It must be the only conviction on your criminal record.

While the scope of this reprieve is limited, Governor Inslee has stated that nearly 3,500 people are eligible. The governor’s office stated that, “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 marijuana possession conviction can assist with barriers to housing, employment and education.” Whether this initial offer of clemency will lead to more, similar programs or initiatives in the future remains to be seen.

Washington is not alone in attempts to pardon those previously convicted of low-level marijuana crimes. Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, has expressed a willingness to consider clemency for some marijuana convictions following Michigan’s vote to legalize marijuana. California recently approved a bill which would similarly expunge past convictions for marijuana-related crimes and a variety of other states have enacted or are considering similar legislation or programs.