Proposed bill would let first-time marijuana offenders have conviction dismissed

Idaho

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BOISE — A local Republican State Representative is teaming up with Democrats to give first-time marijuana offenders the chance to remove the criminal conviction from their record.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, and Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, proposed a bill that would give first-time offenders convicted of misdemeanor possession of one-half ounce of marijuana a chance to reduce the conviction to an infraction. The Bonneville County Prosecutor questioned what kind of message the bill would send to young people.

“So many young people get a (conviction) for, basically, personal use marijuana on them. It’s not large quantities. Then they have that misdemeanor on their record. It makes problems with joining the military, college applications, job applications and so the thought is just to — if they comply with the requirements — be able to have that (conviction) dismissed,” Zollinger said.

If passed, the bill would apply only to those with no prior drug convictions. The first-time offender, who wants their criminal conviction reduced to an infraction, would have to complete four hours of court-approved drug and alcohol education. And either pay a $250 fine or complete eight hours of community service.

Gannon introduced a similar bill last year where it failed to make it out of committee. Zollinger said they expect possible opposition from prosecutors.

Bonneville County Prosecutor Daniel Clark told EastIdahoNews.com his main issue with the proposed bill is about the message it would send if passed.

“What message are we sending to our children and young people about how marijuana is viewed in our community? An infraction for marijuana seems to send the wrong message,” he said.

Zollinger said the bill is similar to what some counties in east Idaho already do with first-time offenders.

“Some of them reduce the ticket. Some of them require these young people to take a drug course and make themselves available for drug testing. Then they’ll dismiss (the conviction),” he said.

Clark said Idaho law already gives first-time offenders a chance to have their charge dismissed through a withheld judgment.

A withheld judgment allows the judge to place the offender on probation and have them undergo treatment or engage in some other therapy. Once the offender has completed that, the judge can then choose to impose a sentence or dismiss the charge altogether.

“Generally speaking, first-time offenders for marijuana or other misdemeanor level drug offenses are handled with kid gloves,” Clark said.

Zollinger said the bill has been referred to the House Education Committee.

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