Seattle prosecutors are seeking to abolish more than 540 convictions against people caught carrying small amounts of pot in the city.
A municipal judge is reviewing the convictions with an eye toward clearing offenders’ criminal records, which advocates say have limited their job and housing opportunities. The 542 people were convicted prior to 2010, when city prosecutors stopped bringing minor possession charges.
Washington state legalized minor marijuana possession in 2012, and no one would be convicted in Seattle on minor possession charges today.
“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,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “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 move is the latest in a series of steps Seattle has taken to reduce or eliminate penalties for pot possession. In 2003, city voters mandated that marijuana possession be made the lowest law-enforcement priority possible, and in 2010, City Attorney Pete Holmes announced he would stop prosecuting simple possession cases, no matter how many tickets the police department wrote.
Voters in 2012 then legalized marijuana possession statewide, and the state launched legal sales via regulated stores in July 2014.
A few months later after legal sales began, an angry Holmes threw out nearly 90 marijuana tickets written by a single officer who appeared upset at legalization and began targeting homeless and minority men with public consumption and possession tickets. At the time, Holmes called the officer’s actions “abhorrent.”
The move also makes Seattle the latest large, liberally minded city to overturn marijuana convictions.
San Francisco in January announced it would begin vacating thousands of minor marijuana convictions, and prosecutors are also reviewing an additional 4,000 felony cases for potential reductions. San Diego is following a similar process. California’s new legal cannabis system allows anyone with a misdemeanor pot conviction to petition to have it dismissed.
Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, but cannabis remains illegal at the federal level and is listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
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