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Seattle Moves to Vacate All Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions

By Roger Malespin  photo/itsock.com/wellphoto

Washington State has been at the forefront of the cannabis reform in the U.S. for 20 years now, and was the first state to pass recreational use of marijuana back in 2012. Now, the city of Seattle is looking to vacate the misdemeanor marijuana convictions for everyone in the city for the past several decades. The move is expected to affect over 500 people, all of whom were convicted prior to 2010. 

In legal speak, vacate essentially means void, so this measure would retroactively treat those convicted as if they were arrested now, with no fear of prosecution. This is an unusual but not unheard of measure - San Francisco announced similar action back in January. 

The chief reason cited for the move is to reverse as much as possible the damage done to minority communities due to draconian, unfair drug enforcement policies. “Vacating charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession is a necessary step to correct the injustices of what was a failed war on drugs, which disproportionately affected communities of color in Seattle,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment. While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents – including immigrants and refugees – a clean slate."
Mayor Durkan’s inclusion of undocumented immigrants is noteworthy considering the current political climate around the issue of immigration is as its fiercest in years. “Non-citizens have also been unduly burdened by these convictions, which can provide a roadblock to gaining citizenship, or in the worst case, can initiate deportation proceedings,“ she said.

Seattle is one of many major cities to reform small marijuana possession cases. In February, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Crasser instructed his staff in February to stop criminal prosecutions for marijuana possessions. "What we're talking about is the 10 percent or so that are being charged as they used to be, as misdemeanors in court," Mr. Krasner said. “I did it because I felt it was the right thing to do,” ”We could use those resources to solve homicides.“

Small time marijuana convictions are unfair to everyone, but minority communities suffer more because things like disparate policing, and filing and sentencing decisions are all repressive strategies which have the potential to destroy lives but do nothing to slow the sale of marijuana or curb the power of criminal organizations. These city leaders are doing to the right thing not just for them, but for all citizens who do not deserve to have their careers, future job prospects, college prospects, or any other avenue of self determination blocked by an old, unjust law based on racism. The culture of the old ‘hard on criminals’ approach to small time possession has caused lasting damage but is going through its final stages in America. The measures in San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia are just a few examples of lawmakers all over the country at all levels of government coming around to what most citizens have known for many years now - The War on Drugs is an unjust failure that needs to be ended with the utmost urgency.