WA Senate LAW - Committee Meeting
(February 12, 2019) - Summary

The committee heard testimony on SB 5605, a bill “Concerning misdemeanor marijuana offense convictions.”

Here are some observations from the February 12th Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee (WA Senate LAW) public hearing on SB 5605, “Concerning misdemeanor marijuana offense convictions.”  SB 5605 is the companion bill to HB 1500; the first public hearing for that bill was hosted by the House Public Safety Committee on February 5th.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • Senior Staff Counsel Melissa Burke-Cain briefed the committee on the background and effects of the legislation (audio – 5m, video).
    • From the Senate Bill Report:
      • Requires a court to vacate a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction upon request if the applicant was age twenty-one or older at the time of the offense.
    • Senator Mike Padden said he’d heard over 200,000 offenses may qualify and asked if there was a limit on how many misdemeanors a person could vacate. Burke-Cain was unsure how many offenses would qualify, but confirmed there wasn’t a per-person limit in the bill (audio – 1m, video).
  • Senator Joe Nguyen, the bill’s sponsor, made a passionate case for the legislation (audio – 2m, video).
    • Nguyen described the intent as correcting a past injustice, promoting equity, and “aligning our values with our laws.”
    • Senator Jeff Holy described himself as a “re-entry program” advocate who liked the bill, but pointed out how accessible conviction information was online and asked Nguyen how to clean up non-state controlled information. Nguyen described the bill as a first step in helping get people’s lives back on track and an effort to “control what we can control” (audio – 2m, video)
  • On a slushy Tuesday in Olympia, the only public testimony was provided by Al Ralston and James McMahan.
    • Ralston, contract lobbyist for The Cannabis Alliance, expressed “firm support” for the proposed law. Ralston said a panel of organization members had intended to testify, but were unable to attend. He echoed the comments of the sponsor and added that policies like this were commonplace in other states which had legalized cannabis (audio – 2m, video).
    • McMahan, Policy Director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), shared several reasons his organization felt the law was unneeded (audio – 2m, video).
      • Existing vacation and pardon processes weighed factors like subsequent arrests while the bill as written did not.
      • McMahan contended some convictions were pled down from more serious charges: “Possession cases didn’t always start out as possession cases.”
      • Echoing Senator Padden’s initial question to committee staff, McMahan reiterated there was no limit on how many cannabis misdemeanors a person could have vacated (existing law permits one vacation).
    • Padden asked how often plea bargains resulted in the misdemeanors vacated by the bill. McMahan answered he was uncertain (audio – 1m, video).