Seattle Judges Dismiss 15 Years of Marijuana Convictions

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Seattle Municipal Court judges have agreed to vacate misdemeanor marijuana convictions and charges for possession prosecuted before weed was legalized in Washington state.

City Attorney Pete Holmes asked the court in April to take the historic step “to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color,” by throwing out all convictions and charges between 1996 and 2010, The Seattle Times reported.

Seattle Marijuana Convictions
Seattle also sought to protect undocumented immigrants who had past marijuana convictions. (Photo by Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press.)

On Sept. 11, all seven judges signed an order agreeing to nix all the cases. Officials estimate as many as 542 people could have their convictions tossed by mid-November.

Holmes lauded the court’s decision, saying the city “should take a moment to recognize the significance” of the ruling.

“We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit,” he said. A week later, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. dismissed over 3,000 pending marijuana smoking and possession cases in the city dating back to the 1970s.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who backed Holmes’ position on the cases earlier this year, also cheered the ruling.

“For too many who call Seattle home, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity — good jobs, housing, loans and education,” Durkan said in a statement. “While we cannot reverse the harm that was done, we will continue to give Seattle residents … a clean slate.”

In their ruling, the judges noted that misdemeanor marijuana convictions between 1996 and 2010 disproportionately affected residents of color, particularly “the African-American community.” In fact, an estimated 46 percent of defendants facing drug prosecution were Black in a city that is 7.9 percent African-American.

The city attorney’s original motion also sought to protect undocumented immigrants with marijuana convictions. The court declined to rule on it, however.

The state voted to legalize marijuana possession and recreational use in 2012, for adults 21 years and older. So far, nine states and the city of Washington D.C. have legalized the drug for both recreational and medicinal use, while 30 states only allow it for medicinal purposes.

The court order directs Holmes to give the names and addresses of those affected, after which the court will send out notices giving each person a 33-day grace period “to object, or seek an individualized finding,” The Seattle Times reported. The convictions and charges against those submitted will then be vacated.

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