Seattle Moves to Vacate Hundreds of Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions


Following San Francisco’s lead, Seattle officials announced Thursday the city will move to expunge the misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions of hundreds of residents, an attempt to help those saddled with records marred by crimes that no longer exist.

City Attorney Pete Holmes stopped prosecuting those cases in 2010, shortly before Washington state legalized marijuana in 2012. Along with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, he announced that he would ask the Seattle Municipal Court to dismiss charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecuted before that time.

Holmes estimated that the decision will impact between 500-600 convictions made between 1997 and 2010. (The Seattle Times notes that there were 240,000 arrests between 1986 and 2010.)

“The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment,” Durkan said at a news conference Thursday, according to a partial transcript of the announcement published by the Seattle Times. “We did little to stem the tide of the supply of drugs and instead incarcerating almost an entire generation of users who could have had a different way.”

From the Seattle Times:

The city attorney said he plans t0 file a single motion by early next week for all convictions to be vacated and said his office will set up a website where people can determine whether their convictions have been cleared. No action will be required by the individuals.
Karen Donohue, the presiding judge for Seattle Municipal Court, is very supportive of the move, Durkan said.

In Washington, black residents are three times more likely than white residents to be prosecuted for marijuana-related crimes. “While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done,” the mayor said, “we can give back to those people a record that says they were not convicted, because that is the more just thing to do.”

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