The city of Seattle filed a motion with the Seattle Municipal Court that would vacate 542 marijuana possession convictions. The motion will effectively erase from the records these convictions going back 21 years.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, a longtime champion of sensible marijuana law reform, acknowledged the racial disparity in cannabis convictions, citing an ACLU report showing that African Americans are more than three times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite the facts that blacks and whites use weed at the same rates.
In February, Durkan and Holmes announced their intention to the court to vacate the convictions. “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 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. 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.”
Durkan also praised the city attorney for his unwavering commitment to justice. “Today wouldn’t be possible without the leadership of City Attorney Holmes, who has been a strong voice for ending this injustice. I want to acknowledge that we would not be here today without the advocacy many other members of our community who have been fighting for restorative justice.”
Lorinda Youngscourt, director of the King County Department of Public Defense said, “The city’s motion is a small but meaningful step in reducing the harm the war on drugs has caused communities of color. That harm is ongoing. Racially disparate policing, filing decisions, and sentencing decisions perpetuate the mass incarceration of communities of color. Further, the city’s motion recognizes and ameliorates the likelihood that non-citizens who plead guilty or proceeded to trial on marijuana possession cases from 1996-2010 may not have received constitutionally sufficient legal advice from their attorneys under the requirements of current case law.”
Washington state voters approved recreational use in 2012. A 2017 report forecasts that the state will take in about $730 million from sales of legalized marijuana over the next two years.