Washington bill would clear cannabis possession misdemeanors


Earlier this month legislation was filed in Washington State that’s drawn the praise of cannabis reform advocates across the country. House Bill 1661 sponsored by a bipartisan assortment of 21 state legislators, would allow individuals in the state with a cannabis possession misdemeanor to have it cleared, or “vacated”, from their record.

If passed, this measure would apply to thousands. Given that a marijuana possession charge can deter a person’s ability to get housing, employment, student loans, etc., this measure would reopen countless doors that were closed to these individuals, simply because of the bogus charge of simply possessing cannabis.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon.

In practical terms, this measure would take the one ounce decriminalization brought forth by Initiative 502, and apply it retroactively. In speaking with me, the sponsor of the measure, State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, stated that; “Thanks to I-502, possession of an ounce of pot (28 grams) is no longer a crime in Washington, but there are still thousands of people in Washington who have a possession conviction on their records, which can be a big problem when applying for a job, housing, or higher education. I had the idea for this bill when many county prosecutors, including in King and Pierce counties, dropped all pending marijuana possession charges. I thought that was a great start, but wondered about all the people from decades and decades of prohibition who still had a conviction on their records, and wondered what it would take to give them a fresh start. I’m very optimistic that we will be able to move this legislation forward this year.”
According to data released last year from the ACLU, nearly a quarter of a million people were arrested for simple cannabis possession in Washington State alone between 1986 and 2010.
Making a stand for justice, and indicating that not all politicians are desperately out-of-touch, Washington’s House Committee on Public Safety voted last week, 6 to 5, to approve the measure out of its initial committee.Just a few days later, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government approved the measure, again by just one vote, 5 to 4.

The bill has now been placed in the state’s Rules Committee, where it’s expected to be scheduled for a full House vote. According to Rep. Fitzgibbon, chances are “really good” that it will pass the House. Even so, it’s absolutely critical for constituents to look up and contact their district’s legislators, urging them to support this common-sense measure.
If the bill passes out of the House, it will head to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces a steep challenge, although the fact that the measure has multiple Republican co-sponsors is likely a good sign.
Those in Washington who support this bill should make an effort to spread the word, and contact their legislators. Those outside of Washington should use this as an example on how to retroactively make up for some of prohibition’s mistakes.
Anthony Martinelli is the founder of TheJointBlog.com. Look for more posts from him in the future here at Toke of the Town.