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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane law erasing some marijuana convictions to go into effect without mayor’s signature

New rules allowing people to erase previous marijuana possession convictions will go into effect at the end of the month, without Spokane Mayor David Condon’s signature or his support.

“He was uncomfortable excusing crimes that occurred when the law was in place,” said Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman. “He was uncomfortable with the retroactive nature of the action.”

Coddington noted that the mayor’s unwillingness to endorse the law wasn’t a pocket veto, which occurs when the president doesn’t sign a bill, blocking it from becoming law. Instead, when a Spokane mayor doesn’t sign an ordinance, it has no real effect. The mayor must actively veto an ordinance to prevent it from becoming law.

In November, the council passed an ordinance brought by Council President Ben Stuckart giving people an opportunity to erase Spokane Municipal Court convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession handed down prior to July 2014. People will have to apply for such “vacations” of their records, and the rules will go into effect on Dec. 30.

At the time, Stuckart said people were being punished in employment, housing and other situations for possessing a drug that was no longer banned. Washington voters approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012.

Now, Stuckart said the mayor’s non-veto is “bizarre.”

“It surprised me when I saw that,” Stuckart said. “We got national kudos for this. We’re one of the first cities in the country to do it. I’m proud of it. Giving people a second chance shouldn’t be controversial.”

Stuckart said he spoke with administration officials before proposing the ordinance and was told there were no problems with it.

“It came out of the blue. I worked with the city attorney. I worked with the head of the city prosecutors. I worked with the (municipal) court administrator,” he said. “I had a conversation with the city administrator about it before I dropped it and asked if there were any concerns. I was told, ‘Absolutely not. You’ve worked hard on it.’ ”

Still, it’s not that uncommon for mayors to send legislation to the city clerk for implementation with no signature.

In 2011, then-Mayor Mary Verner did not sign an ordinance increasing water rates, saying it created confusion. Condon, who was campaigning against Verner at the time, criticized her decision to allow the law to go into effect even though she disagreed with it.

In 2008, Verner didn’t sign an ordinance allowing the development of three big-box retailers near Regal Street and Palouse Highway, where Target has since been built. She said some portions of the ordinance had her support, leading to the non-veto.

Condon took a different direction on an ordinance he opposed about three weeks ago. That veto focused on the city’s official definition of mobile home parks, and Condon said city processes were ignored. The council turned back Condon’s veto in about an hour.

Part of Condon’s reasoning for not vetoing the ordinance may have been an attempt to avoid a confrontation with the council, which approved Stuckart’s ordinance on a 6-0 vote and could have overridden a veto with only five votes. But Coddington suggested the mayor’s decision not to sign was more of a personal protest, and it didn’t affect the new rules.

“If a mayor chooses to leave it blank, it’s essentially the same as a signature,” he said.

Stuckart said he didn’t get it.

“I just don’t understand,” he said. “It’s not a pocket veto, but he chose not to put his name on it, which is bizarre.”