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Seattle moves to wipe away old pot possession convictions

The City of Seattle will join San Francisco in retroactively applying marijuana legalization laws to past pot possession convictions, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office announced Thursday morning.

“Today, former U.S. Attorney and Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes will announce plans for the City to move to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions prosecuted by the City before marijuana was legalized in Washington. Passed in 2012, I-502 legalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 years or older,” the announcement reads.

According to the announcement, the City Attorney’s Office will ask Seattle’s municipal court “to vacate convictions and dismiss charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecuted by the City, which helps to bring restorative justice for the communities who have been disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system and furthers the City’s commitment to eliminate racial disparities.”

Voters approved I-502 legalizing marijuana use in 2012. The shops began opening in 2014, including Uncle Ike’s at 23rd and Union. By 2015, Capitol Hill welcomed Ruckusits first retail store. Ike’s especially became a target for critics who accused the shop and the I-502 system of fostering gentrification and lacking equity for people of color who had been unfairly targeted for past marijuana prosecution.

In its announcement, Durkan’s office cited the racial disparities in enforcement of drug laws:

Marijuana possession arrests in Washington rose sharply in the 25 year period from 4,000 in 1986 to 11,000 in 2010, totaling 240,000 arrests according to the Drug Policy Alliance. In Washington State, African Americans were arrested at 2.9 times the rate of whites. Latinos and Native Americans were arrested at 1.6 times the rate of whites.

Unlike San Francisco which is moving to vacate misdemeanor and felony level convictions in the wake of statewide legalization, the Seattle effort is focused only on misdemeanor possession. UPDATE: We should clarify that San Francisco’s status as a city and county government allows it to also vacate the felony level convictions. To do the same here will require King County Executive Dow Constantine and Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to join the City Hall initiative.

Meanwhile, a changing mood in Washington D.C. has West Coast legalization efforts on the defensive. In January, Durkan announced that Seattle Police would not be part of any federal crackdown on legal pot.

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