Inslee announces initiative to pardon marijuana misdemeanors

Governor’s Marijuana Justice Initiative provides expedited process to clear conviction records for thousands of Washingtonians

Tony Kurek has been in recovery from drug addiction for 13 years. Today, he is a pastor and a pillar of his community. He and his wife are deeply involved with helping the homeless in Kitsap County, even opening up a nonprofit house for poor and low-income women and men. But years ago, Kurek’s life was a world away. He was abusing marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and other drugs. He struggled for over a decade with addiction, and in his early thirties was charged and convicted with a misdemeanor for marijuana possession.

Kurek and his wife fought for years to get their life on track. The stigma of his drug conviction followed them at every turn. He describes his misdemeanor as a bag of rocks tied around him.

“I own my decisions,” Kurek said discussing his path. “But once we got into recovery we found it very difficult to shake the mistakes of my past.”

As they worked toward getting back on their feet, Kurek and his wife found themselves homeless for over a year. They had opportunities to move into different places but the landlords would pass them over due to the conviction. They struggled to find work and even lost their children for a period of time.

Gov. Inslee speaks to reporters after announcing his Marijuana Justice Initiative. (Office of Governor photo)

Justice for past misdemeanor convictions

The behavior that landed Kurek with criminal prosecution is no longer considered a crime in Washington. Although he admits he made a lot of mistakes, possessing a small amount of marijuana for personal use is no longer illegal for adults within this state.

Today Gov. Jay Inslee announced his Marijuana Justice Initiative to provide pardons for certain individuals who have convictions on their record for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“We shouldn’t be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in Washington state,” said Inslee, who announced the initiative today at the Cannabis Alliance’s annual conference. “Forgiving these convictions can help lessen their impact and allow people to move on with their lives. It’s a small step, but one that moves us in the direction of correcting these injustices.”

VIDEO: Inslee announces Marijuana Justice Initiative at 2019 Washington Cannabis Summit

Gov. Inslee speaks to a group at the Cannabis Alliance annual conference in Seattle. (Office of Governor photo)

Marijuana possession misdemeanors are considered unfair because the behavior would not be illegal today and they disproportionately affect communities of color. These misdemeanor convictions can be over a decade old, but still create barriers to housing, employment, student loans, credit scores and even the ability to participate in a child or grandchild’s school field trip. A pardon of a marijuana possession conviction can reduce these barriers. 
Under this initiative, Inslee will exercise his constitutional clemency authority to pardon individuals who have a single conviction on their criminal record. That sole conviction must be for an adult misdemeanor marijuana possession, prosecuted under state law in Washington. And, the conviction must have occurred between January 1, 1998 and December 5, 2012, when I-502 legalized marijuana possession.

Giving people a hand up as they make a better life

Kurek thinks the initiative will be a great tool to help people on their road to being better. He shared that a pardon for his misdemeanor conviction — even years later — would have a very positive impact on his life.

“It would give me the sense of freedom that I wouldn’t have to explain myself every time it comes up. It would be a great relief to not have to discuss it or defend myself for the mistakes I made in the past. Clearly, I’m not making those mistakes anymore.”

Those who have an adult misdemeanor marijuana possession and believe they qualify for a pardon can submit a petition online. Once the Office of the Governor reviews the case and confirms they are eligible, Inslee will pardon the conviction and ask Washington State Patrol to remove the offense from the criminal history report that is available to the public.

Pardoning misdemeanors for marijuana possession brings Washington one step closer to correcting injustices and modernizing the way the state manages marijuana. Records indicate that the Marijuana Justice Initiative could pardon misdemeanors for about 3,500 people. This will help people move on from a past mistake and toward a better life.

“My life is really, really good,” Kurek said reflecting on the initiative. “But I’m sure there was a shorter road than the one I took. I believe an initiative like this will make it easier for a lot of others to get to recovery.”

Visit the Marijuana Justice Initiative webpage: www.governor.wa.gov/marijuanajustice