Washington was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. But it may be falling behind in another way: authorizing automatic expungement for past marijuana-related criminal convictions.
Washington State does not currently have automatic expungements set up. In 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that would have done so. Meanwhile, more and more states are legalizing cannabis for recreational and medical purposes. And as they do, activists are calling on lawmakers to look backward as well as forward. In other words, automatically expunge old marijuana crimes from qualifying residents’ records.
Another state considering cannabis legalization
Rhode Island is one of the states where lawmakers are currently trying to legalize marijuana. Leaders in that state’s legislature are confident that the bill will pass this year.
If it does, it would allow anyone age 21 and over to possess small amounts of marijuana without fear of arrest or criminal charges. But the bill does not mention anything about automatic expungement for past possession or trafficking charges — something that local activist groups say should be included.
How an old drug conviction can hold you back
They point out that an old conviction can affect your life years after completing your sentence. Everything that involves a background check — trying to rent an apartment, applying for a loan, getting accepted into college — can get taken away from you because of a mistake you made years, if not decades, ago. Expungement can take care of the problem. Making the process automatic can save people and the courts time and money.
Though automatic expungement is not an option in Washington, you can still apply for an expungement yourself. The process is easier if you work with an attorney.