Seattle Municipal Court judges unanimously agreed to vacate misdemeanor marijuana convictions in the city from 1996 to 2010.
City Attorney Pete Holmes filed a motion in April asking the court to dismiss marijuana convictions “to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color.” The ruling could affect more than 500 people charged or convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors. The Seattle court doesn’t handle felony cases.
The judges noted in their ruling that of the more than 500 cases between 1996 and 2010, 46% of defendants were African-American.
“Inasmuch as the conduct for which the defendant was convicted is no longer criminal, setting aside the conviction and dismissing the case serves the interests of justice,” the judges wrote.
Washington state legalized adult-use cannabis in 2012. After Holmes was elected in 2010, his office stopped prosecuting marijuana-possession cases.
“We’ve taken another important step to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs, and to build true economic opportunity for all…For too many who call Seattle a home, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity – to good jobs, housing, loans, and education. It created a permanent criminal record that traveled with people their whole life. And we know now that it disproportionately targeted communities of color,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The court expects to have the convictions vacated by mid-November after defendants are mailed notices and given a chance to object or ask for individualized findings. Those who don’t respond will have their conviction automatically vacated.
“While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we will continue to act to give Seattle residents – including immigrants and refugees – a clean slate.”
In a press release, Holmes said that the city should “take a moment to recognize the significance” of overturning marijuana-related convictions. “We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit.”
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