Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle announced last week that the city has filed a court motion to vacate marijuana convictions. The city will also dismiss the charges that led to those convictions. The motion applies to those prosecuted for simple marijuana p0ssession between 1997 and 2010. Mayor Durkan estimates the move will affect 542 people. The Seattle Municipal Court will have to approve the motion for it to become effective.
Durkan said that the action to clear criminal records will advance the pursuit of justice.
“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,” said Mayor Durkan.
“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.”
The mayor also noted that immigrants can bear harsh consequences from a criminal record. The motion includes special protections for non-citizens.
“Noncitizens have also been unduly burdened by these convictions, which can provide a roadblock to gaining citizenship, or in the worst case, can initiate deportation proceedings,” she said.
Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced their intention to vacate the convictions earlier this year. The mayor also said then that their action is an attempt to correct wrongs from the nation’s war on drugs.
“The war on drugs had devastating impacts on people, especially people of color and their families”, she said. “People’s lives were ruined for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. This action is a necessary first step in righting the wrongs of the past and putting our progressive values into action.”
Legal Cannabis Spurs City’s Action
Holmes said at that time that erasing possession convictions continues Seattle’s history of progressive drug policy. The city attorney has been an important part of that legacy. He stopped prosecuting charges of cannabis possession when he took office in 2010. And Holmes was a leader in the campaign for 2012’s Initiative 502 that legalized recreational marijuana in Washington.
“The City of Seattle has long been a pioneer in changing the way we approach marijuana,” he said. “I was proud to end the practice of charging simple marijuana possession cases when I became City Attorney and to sponsor I-502 two years later. Today we are taking another important step by moving to vacate past convictions for conduct that is now legal.”
Holmes reiterated that sentiment in last week’s announcement. He noted that the criminalization of behavior that is no longer illegal still affects people today.
“As we see marijuana sold in retail storefronts today, people who simply had a joint in their pocket a decade ago still have a red mark on their records,” said Holmes.
“It’s long past time we remedy the drug policies of yesteryear, and this is one small step to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color. I’m hopeful the court will choose to clear these charges.”