Seattle’s mayor and city attorney announced plans in February 2018 to request court dismissal of all misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions obtained in city courts before the drug’s legalization in 2012. When the convictions are vacated or dismissed, they will disappear from the records of hundreds of people.
Mayor Jenny Durkan, who once prosecuted cases in Seattle’s municipal court system, said the convictions disproportionately affected traditionally marginalized groups, such as poor communities of color. Durkan added that erasing the convictions “is really a necessary step to right the wrongs” of a failed war on drugs. Moreover, erasing pot convictions will have real-world implications for Seattle’s most vulnerable populations.
“It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and an education,” Durkan said.
City attorney Pete Holmes estimated that more than 500 convictions would be cleared. While the city can ask the courts to vacate the convictions, the final decision is made by a judge.
“However,” said Holmes, “this is an instance where the prosecutor is bringing the motion to vacate and dismiss and [in] those instances there is very little discretion on the part of the judge.”
Seattle’s plans follow in the wake of a similar move by San Francisco authorities. In January 2018, prosecutors in San Francisco threw out thousands of low-level marijuana cases dating back to the mid-1970s.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana as of early 2018.
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