WA: What’s Behind Seattle’s Motion To Toss Out Marijuana Convictions

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The City of Seattle filed a motion on Friday asking the court to dismiss charges of marijuana possession for people prosecuted between 1997 and 2010. That was the last year the city charged for possession, when Pete Holmes became city attorney. If passed, the motion would impact around 542 people.

“As we see marijuana sold in retail storefronts today, people who simply had a joint in their pocket a decade ago still have a red mark on their records,” City Attorney Holmes said.

KIRO Radio reporter Mike Lewis noted that the motion will purge convictions, not necessarily the arrest record.

“One of the problems that I have with these pot convictions is that we arrested so many black and brown people,” said KIRO Radio’s Don O’Neill. “Why wouldn’t that arrest record go away? That drives me nuts.”

According to Lewis, getting an arrest record removed is difficult, but this motion begins that process.

“It’s a whole cascading series of events,” Lewis said. “And that’s what people sometimes don’t recognize about low-grade convictions. It doesn’t stop with that conviction, it also closes a bunch of doors in front of you.”

Marijuana offenses can have lifelong consequences

Such sentiment was also expressed by Holmes. He argued, in the motion, that even a misdemeanor offense can have negative consequences affecting employment opportunities, education pathways, qualification for government benefits, and travel and immigration status.

“This is one of the cornerstones of people misunderstanding or not acknowledging white privilege,” said KIRO Radio’s Ron Upshaw. “If you were a black person or a brown person versus a white person with no arrest. Having that arrest makes it more difficult to get a job, more difficult to find housing. For some, it turns into an impossibility.”

The city’s motion will further attempt to recognize that many of cases involved non-citizens, who may have plead guilty without sufficient legal advice under the requirements of current case law. Those interested in determining whether they have a misdemeanor marijuana conviction can visit Seattle Municipal Court’s portal or call 206-684-5600.

“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 Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

“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,” she said.