Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon
Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of>"/>
UPDATE: The House Public Safety Committee today voted 6-5 to recommend Fitzgibbon's bill be passed.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon
Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Burien recently introduced a bill that would allow people to have their misdemeanor marijuana convictions in Washington vacated. He says House Bill 1661 is in line with the spirit of I-502, and could potentially give thousands of Washingtonians a much-deserved second chance.
But at a House Public Safety Committee hearing in Olympia Wednesday, it became clear not everyone is so sure about Fitzgibbon's idea.
For the most part, the argument comes down to weight. Prior to I-502's passage getting busted with anything up to 40 grams of weed constituted a misdemeanor pot offense in Washington, and I-502 only made it legal for adults to possess up to an ounce (28 grams). Even under I-502, carrying between 28 and 40 grams still constitutes a misdemeanor. Some - most notably the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys - aren't keen on the prospect of giving anyone who's been convicted of a misdemeanor pot offense - especially those who've been busted with more than 28 grams - a free pass.
Additionally, as Fitzgibbon's bill currently reads, any adult whose record is blighted by a misdemeanor pot offense would have the opportunity to have that conviction vacated. But adulthood is defined as 18 or older - and I-502 only legalized weed for those 21 and over. Again, some law enforcement officials aren't hip to the idea of a bill that would circumvent existing misdemeanor pot laws for people that I-502 does not apply to.
Speaking with Seattle Weekly Wednesday evening, Fitzgibbon said he was very open to tweaking the bill so that only those 21 and older would have the opportunity to vacate their misdemeanor pot convictions. But as for the weight debate, Fitzgibbon isn't budging - noting that determining who was busted with less than 28 grams of weed in the past and who was busted with more - in many cases - would be impossible.
"Administratively, it would be a pretty big challenge," says Fitzgibbon, pointing out that in many misdemeanor convictions as long as the amount of pot someone was carrying was determined to be under 40 grams no exact measurement was ever recorded.
Because of this, Fitzgibbon is sticking to his guns, saying that - with I-502 now the law of the land - giving adults with misdemeanor pot convictions on their record a second chance is simply the right thing to do.
"It's just going to be a policy call for the legislature to make," he says.
And when it comes to that policy call, Fitzgibbons remains confident in the face of the aforementioned questions - at least in terms of advancing his bill out of the House. He says many of his colleagues are excited about the legislation, and he expects HB 1661 to have support.
"I've gotten great feedback on it," says Fitzgibbon, predicting that the "chances are really good" that the House will pass the bill.
However, while Fitzgibbon is idealistic enough to believe those with misdemeanor pot convictions deserve a second chance, he's not delusional. Of the legislation's chances in the Republican-controlled Senate, he notes "the dynamics are really different" there.
"If nothing else we're highlighting it as an issue," Fitzgibbon says, indicating that if the bill ultimately fails this session he's prepared to take up the cause again next year.