Pot-related bills advance in legislature

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SEATTLE — Two marijuana-related bills advanced Thursday in Olympia, with legislative committees giving their OK to one measure that would block police from arresting medical marijuana patients and another that would let people have misdemeanor pot convictions erased.

The House Public Safety Committee voted 6-5 to recommend the bill on pot convictions be passed, and the Senate Health Care Committee approved the arrest-protection bill. The votes beat today's deadline for bills dealing with policy matters to be passed out of committee.

Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Burien told the House committee Wednesday that after Initiative 502 passed, allowing adults over 21 to have up to an ounce of marijuana under state law, he started thinking about the thousands of people who have criminal records for activity that is now legal — criminal records that can keep people from getting jobs, housing or loans.

Typically, people must wait three years after completing their sentence before asking to have a misdemeanor conviction vacated. The bill would eliminate that waiting period and remove other restrictions on having pot misdemeanors wiped clean.

The bill drew some objections at a hearing Thursday. The head of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Tom McBride, noted that the bill would allow people to have their convictions erased even if they had more marijuana than I-502 allows. Misdemeanor pot possession has historically been defined as up to 40 grams, but the new law only lets people have up to an ounce, or 28 grams.

Ezra Eickmeyer, a lobbyist with the Washington Cannabis Association, said Thursday that was a minor concern.

"What the people voted for was not to put people in jail and give them criminal convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana," he said.