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Washington state bill would forgive all minor marijuana convictions

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, February 21, 2013 16:41 EDT
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A man gets arrested. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
 
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Washington state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D) has a novel idea: now that marijuana is legal in the state, he wants people convicted of minor, state-level marijuana offenses to get a clean slate.

Fitzgibbon introduced H.B. 1661 on Feb. 5, a bill that he told Raw Story was inspired by Washington prosecutors who dropped all of their pending misdemeanor marijuana cases in December following legalization’s passage at the ballot box.

“That got me thinking of the thousands of Washingtonians who have a misdemeanor marijuana conviction on their record, and if there wasn’t something we could do to help them out, help them get a fresh start with their lives,” he said.

Many times a marijuana conviction can disqualify one for numerous jobs, public housing opportunities and educational financing: harms Fitzgibbon hopes to undo by allowing prior offenders to petition for their charges to be vacated.

“Since the voters of Washington clearly believe that possession of small amounts of marijuana is not something that’s a crime in our state, I thought that maybe we can offer a second chance to people who have that crime on their record,” he said.

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys isn’t so keen on Fitzgibbon’s bill, which was presented at hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, warning that letting people with prior marijuana convictions off the hook would send the wrong signal: they were breaking the law at the time, after all.

Seattle Weekly noted that the bill could also have an impact on future marijuana offenses as well. The state’s legalization initiative approves possession of up to 28 grams, while up to 40 grams remains in misdemeanor territory. Prosecutors are concerned the law does not specify that it applies only to past offenses, potentially leaving a loophole for individuals in the future.

“Prosecutors, as always, don’t like anything that lessens their ability to charge people with crimes,” Fitzgibbon said. “That’s the disagreement that we have.

Though he’s hopeful the bill could pass the Democratic-controlled House, the Republican Senate in Washington may have different ideas. “For now, I think the feedback has been pretty good and I think this is [a bill] we’ve got a pretty good shot at,” he concluded.
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Photo: Shutterstock.com

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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