Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes have announced a plan to clear the records of those charged with minor marijuana related misdemeanor charges. This move is several years coming as possession of small amounts of marijuana has been legal for personal use by adults over the age of 21 since Initiative 502 passed in 2012. This move followed an earlier Initiative 75 that passed in 2003 that made marijuana related arrests and protection the lowest priority for law enforcement. City Attorney Holmes took office in 2010 and dismissed all pending marijuana possession cases.
Fighting Disproportionate Arrests
Marijuana related convictions can devastate individuals, families and even communities. It is not only the legal costs and time spent in prison. A criminal conviction can affect an individual’s ability to get housing, employment and education opportunities, thus affecting not only their future but the future of their family’s well-being. A 2012 Marijuana Arrest Research Project report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance found that, while African American, Latin and Native American communities only made up 14 percent of Washington’s population, these groups made up 25 percent of the arrests made between 2001 and 2010. This kind of disproportionate justice has been the source of great injuries done to these communities that ultimately affect the state as a whole. According to Seattle Weekly, Duran and Holmes hope to begin addressing this injustice, clearing all records as soon as early next week.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much a conviction affects a person’s life the moment it happens,” Durkan said. “Almost every application they do for a job or for housing will ask, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ It really forecloses opportunities: everything from jobs, to education, to being a part of who we are as a society. And so while we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we can give back to those people a record that says they were not convicted, because that is the more just thing to do.”
Following California’s Example
Seattle’s move comes shortly after similar steps were taken in San Francisco and San Diego, California, where recreational use was legalized in November 2016. Although those convicted of marijuana related charges may file a petition to have their records cleared, many cannot afford to take this step on their own. The procedure is both lengthy, complicated and expensive. It is this reason that cities are taking on the task of righting what is, in many cases, racial injustice on their own.
The Process of Dismissing Misdemeanors
Seattle’s City Attorney’s office will now work to obtain a list of marijuana convictions that happened between 1997 and 2010. Holmes then plans to file a motion with the court to dismiss the convictions. Those affected will be able to log in to a website and monitor the progress of their case. They will not be required to do anything as this will be taken care of by the city but they will still have access to updates. Holmes stated that Nixon’s War on Drugs made the United States the “number one jailor nation” and exacerbated “institutional racism” that has left much of the country struggling and in disarray. “This is one small move toward trying to undo that wrong” says Holmes.