Earlier today, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that Seattle could dismiss over 1,000 marijuana convictions. The decision is the latest in the city’s attempts to minimize the negative effects of earlier cannabis prohibition laws.
Mayor Durkan’s Announcement
In a statement published by Durkan’s office this morning, she made clear her intentions. Working alongside City Attorney Pete Holmes, Durkan will ask the city’s municipal court to throw out marijuana convictions from cases prior to the state’s decision to legalize weed.
Durkan’s announcement does not actually accomplish that objective. But it is the first step.
From here, the Seattle Attorney’s Office will formally ask the city’s municipal court to throw out all misdemeanor marijuana possession charges prior to 2012. If the authorities comply with the request, the court could dismiss thousands of convictions.
Durkan explained that there were several reasons for her decision to spearhead this effort. For starters, it’s an attempt to more accurately reflect current laws. Since cannabis is legal in Washington, it does not make sense that some people would still have cannabis charges on their criminal records.
Beyond that, it’s also part of ongoing efforts led by key lawmakers and city officials to implement more progressive weed laws.
In 2003, Seattle voted to make the prosecution of marijuana charges one of the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. Then, in 2010, when City Attorney Pete Holmes was first elected, the city began dismissing all marijuana possession cases. At the time, Holmes said he would stop prosecuting all weed possession cases.
Today’s announcement serves as the latest step in this process. By providing a way to throw out previous convictions, this action could clear the records of thousands of Seattle residents.
Addressing Racial Inequities
Addressing racial disparities in law enforcement is arguably the most important motivation behind Durkan’s decision. Despite increasingly loose cannabis laws, both Seattle and the state of Washington have long records of racially disparate policing practices.
For example, a comprehensive report published by the Drug Policy Alliance found that marijuana possession arrests in Washington rose from 4,000 in 1986 to 11,000 in 2010.
During that time, black people were 2.9 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people. Similarly, Latinx and Indigenous folks were arrested 1.6 times frequently than white people. Those trends occurred even though people of color actually consumed cannabis at lower rates than white people.
In this context, Durkan’s efforts to throw out old convictions could help address some of these inequities.
“The war on drugs had devastating impacts on people, especially people of color and their families,” she said in her official announcement. “People’s lives were ruined for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. This action is a necessary first step in righting the wrongs of the past and putting our progressive values into action.”
Final Hit: Seattle Could Dismiss Over 1,000 Marijuana Convictions
Mayor Durkan’s announcement is the latest in a string of similar moves from lawmakers around the country. At the end of January, San Francisco officials announced that they would dismiss thousands of cannabis convictions.
Additionally, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently said he was considering releasing somewhere around 40 prisoners serving time for marijuana possession. The state of California is also considering similar actions.