Seattle Wants To Void All Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions

By Victoria Kim 05/01/18

"While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents—including immigrants and refugees—a clean slate.”

hand holding a marijuana leaf

The city of Seattle is seeking to give people who have been punished for certain cannabis offenses a second chance—by retroactively erasing them from the record.

The Seattle Times reports that the city filed a motion on Friday (April 27) in municipal court to “vacate all convictions and dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession” that date back before Washington approved cannabis for adult use in 2012.

According to city officials, the move would affect 500 to 600 convictions in Seattle. They believe it’s time to erase these past offenses, since the law in Washington state no longer prohibits possessing small amounts of cannabis.

Mayor Jenny Durkan said it’s a necessary step toward righting the wrongs of past drug policies.

“Vacating charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession is a necessary step to correct the injustices of what was a failed war on drugs, which disproportionately affected communities of color in Seattle,” she said. “The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment. While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents—including immigrants and refugees—a clean slate.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who filed the motion in Seattle Municipal Court, acknowledged that a drug conviction can have wide-ranging consequences.

“A drug conviction, even for the misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana, can have significant negative collateral consequences affecting person’s employment opportunities, education options, qualification for government benefits and programs, travel and immigration status,” he wrote in the motion.

He also noted the grave impact that these punitive policies have had on communities of color in particular. “African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Caucasians, even though both groups consume marijuana at similar rates,” he noted.

Washington voters decided to “legalize it” for adult use back in 2012. It was one of the first states to do so, along with Colorado. Before that, Washington had allowed medical cannabis for qualifying patients since 1998.

Washington's West Coast neighbors, Oregon and California, have offered similar options for erasing past marijuana-related offenses.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office announced that it would dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor marijuana-related convictions, as well as review nearly 5,000 felony convictions that may be reduced.

California, which was the first state to establish a medical cannabis program back in 1996, legalized cannabis for adult use in 2016.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr