Last week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced at a press conference that they will be asking the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate all convictions and to dismiss all charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecuted before pot was legalized statewide, which could result in the vacating of 500 to 600 convictions that occurred between 1997 and 2010, when the city stopped prosecuting misdemeanor cannabis offenses.
This move comes on the heels of similar actions by officials in San Francisco and the rumblings of such a move occurring in Colorado, showing the start of a positive and hopefully far-reaching trend.
“The war on drugs ended up being a war on people who needed help, who needed opportunity and who needed treatment,” Mayor Durkan said at the press conference.
“We did little to stem the tide of the supply of drugs and instead incarcerated almost an entire generation of users who could have had a different way.”
In a perfect world, cannabis would be legalized and that would be the end of it, but unfortunately local, state and federal officials have spent many years destroying the lives of people over non-violent marijuana offenses.
“Seattle is doing the right thing,” said Jolene Forman, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It is important that states considering legalizing marijuana, as well as states that already have legalized, they acknowledge the past harms of the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws, and work to repair them. Repairing the harms of marijuana criminalization, especially in communities of color that have been hit the hardest by our destructive drug laws, is an essential piece of properly implementing marijuana legalization. It is exciting to see a city like Seattle doing all it can to improve what the state of Washington approved in 2012.”
Between 1986 and 2010, some 240,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in the state of Washington. Almost a quarter of a million people arrested for the “crime” of having plant material somewhere on their person. Voters in states like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California and others are doing what they can to stop this practice, but we can’t forget all of the people who had their lives destroyed before a terrible mistake in the law was rectified.
People in dozens of states are still being arrested for cannabis possession, people who will need their records cleared after voters and officials in their state realize that marijuana should have been legal all along. What is happening in San Francisco and Seattle is a good – albeit small – start.