The Capitol Record

House panel approves bill that would erase misdemeanor marijuana offenses

A House committee on Thursday approved legislation that would allow people convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses to have the crime speedily removed from their records.

House Bill 1661, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), lays out the method to have the convictions removed without waiting the standard three-year period.

Supporters say voters made a clear statement in November when Washington became one of two states to decriminalize and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

Fitzgibbon said more than 19,000 people have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession since 2008 and 1,828 of those people were not convicted of any other crime.

“There is no doubt they made a mistake and possession was illegal at that time, but I think the voters of our state have made it very loud and clear that they don’t see possession of small amounts of marijuana as something that should ruin a person’s life anymore,” he said.

Tom McBride with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys told lawmakers a process is already in place to have misdemeanor crimes vacated after three years and singling marijuana out doesn’t make sense.

“I understand for some people marijuana is special. It’s not that special for me. There are lots of things people should be able to get past in their life and convictions they should be able to vacate. Let’s play by the same rules for everyone,” McBride said.

Twenty other House members have signed on in support of the bill.

The legislation now moves to the House Rules Committee. Approval there would send it to the floor for a debate and vote.

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