Walsh’s bill to fund indigent defense with marijuana money scheduled for public hearing

A bill introduced by Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, that would fund legal services for indigent defendants using sales tax revenue from marijuana sales is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming the first day of the 2018 legislative session, Monday, Jan. 8.

Walsh's bill would redirect one-third of the money in the state's dedicated marijuana account from the state to the county level. Counties could then share those moneys, as appropriate, with cities or other local jurisdictions.

“Since we legalized marijuana, the state has done a poor job of sharing tax revenue with local jurisdictions. Although counties and cities get a piece of the state tax revenue from the sale of legal marijuana, it's terribly small,” Walsh, R-Aberdeen said.

According to the 19th District lawmaker, counties and cities often shoulder a significant financial burden in paying for counsel for low-income defendants. House Bill 2103 would give a proportion of the allocation taken from the state's marijuana account to local governments based on the total excise tax revenues collected by licensed marijuana businesses located in the cities, counties and unincorporated areas within that county.

“Providing public defense is a fundamental component of our justice system. However, this service costs money,” said Walsh. “When we considered legalizing marijuana, one of the key selling points of legalization was it would provide tax revenue for local law enforcement agencies and courts. The money was to be used so local governments could bear the costs of dealing with the front-line consequences of legal use of the intoxicant.”

“As it stands in 2018, the costs of public defenders is one of the fastest-growing unfunded mandates for local governments. The state chipping-in to help offset those costs is not only moral and ethical, it's really just common sense,” continued Walsh.

The 2018 legislative session began Jan. 8 and is scheduled to run 60 consecutive days.


Washington State House Republican Communications