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In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters made history when they approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington Initiative 502 “authorizes the state liquor board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age or older.”Since the vote in Washington, the Liquor Board has written a complex set of rules for the state’s new, legal recreational cannabis marketplace. The agency has also set limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown. And the Board has begun to license growers, processors and retailers.For now, the Obama administration has signaled it will not interfere with Washington and Colorado’s legal pot experiment, unless there is evidence that legal pot is “leaking” to other states or children are getting access to the legal product. The feds are also watching to see if criminal organizations exploit the legal market.The first marijuana retail stores in Washington opened in July 2014.Recreational marijuana is also set to become legal in Oregon on July 1, 2015 after voters approved Measure 91 in November 2014.

Legalization Passed, But Should Old Marijuana Convictions Stay?


In the years before Washington and Oregon legalized recreational pot for adults, thousands of people were convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Now Washington state lawmakers are considering whether to make it simple to expunge that crime -- which is no longer a crime -- from a person's record. The same issue could also come up in Oregon as the legislature examines implementation of its voter-approved legalization measure.

The proposed bill in the Washington House would allow people busted with a small amount of marijuana to ask the court to throw out the misdemeanor conviction if they were over 21 at the time of the offense.

Neither Washington nor Oregon's marijuana legalization ballot measures addressed prior convictions.

In Olympia, Thurston County public defender Alex Frix told state lawmakers he could succinctly make the case to wipe clean people's prior pot convictions.

"The voters spoke,” Frix said. “It is patently unfair to continue to punish people with the stain of a conviction for possessing a now-legal substance."

Currently, it's possible but cumbersome to have certain misdemeanor convictions expunged from your record provided you were crime-free since.

The Washington state bill to expunge misdemeanor marijuana convictions has sponsorship solely from Democratic representatives, which could spell trouble if and when it advances to the Republican-controlled state Senate. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys opposed a previous legislative attempt to streamline the expungement of misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions.

"I don't think there is a person in this room that thinks the laws of the State of Washington are exactly what you'd like them to be. What's important is we commit to live by those laws until we change those laws," prosecutors association lobbyist Tom McBride said in a 2013 testimony. "At the time these crimes were convicted, it was a crime. It was known it was a crime."

State Representative Sherry Appleton, a Democrat, said prior convictions make it hard for some people to get a new job, housing or higher education.

"It is time that we set them free and let them go on about their lives," Appleton said after the latest bill on this marijuana angle was heard in the state House Public Safety Committee on Friday.

No one spoke in opposition at the Friday committee hearing.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.