It’s been six years since voters in Washington legalized cannabis for personal adult use. Unfortunately, at that time, there wasn’t any foresight to include a stipulation about expunging criminal records for what would no longer be a crime. Since then, states that have legalized cannabis have either considered adding such a clause in their wording or lawmakers and justice officials have started working to right these wrongs. In Seattle, judges have agreed to vacate 15 years worth of cannabis possession convictions.
“Inasmuch as the conduct for which the defendant was convicted is no longer criminal,” read the judges’ order, “setting aside the conviction and dismissing the case serves the interests of justice.”
This has been a process in the works since April of this year when Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes filed a motion asking the city’s seven judges to vacate all convictions for misdemeanor possession that fell between the years 1996 and 2010. While the state legalized cannabis in 2012, Holmes made the decision to no longer prosecute minor cannabis offenses when he was elected in 2010.
“For too many who call Seattle home, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity—good jobs, housing, loans and education,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who, for some reason, did not have a blunt behind her ear. “While we cannot reverse the harm that was done, we will continue to give Seattle residents … a clean slate.”
The judges’ order was passed on Monday, vacating a total of 542 convictions. Anyone who was affected by the order will be notified through the mail and will have 33 days to object to having the charge vacated – though really, who is going to argue with having an unnecessary criminal record cleared?
“We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit,” Holmes said. “Five hundred and fourty-two people have criminal records for holding something we can buy in retail storefronts today. In two short months, thanks to our Seattle Municipal Court judges, those convictions will be history.”
When you think about it, a little over 500 convictions erased – compared to the thousands that remain outside the city, and from prior to 1996 – seems small. But, this is a big step forward for the city, just like anywhere else where convictions have been vacated so people are not being continually punished for something that is no longer deemed a crime. Hopefully, more cities – and maybe even state officials – will see this and continue to work for the changes that many do not consider when pushing for legalization.