Seattle drops over 500 convictions for marijuana possession after legalization

The Seattle Municipal Court ordered more than 500 convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession be vacated after Washington legalized marijuana in 2012.

The order, dated on Sept. 11 but publicized on Monday, vacates all convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession from 1996 to 2010.

The filing argues that it is fair to do so, in part because the state legalized marijuana in 2012 and because nearly half of the more than 500 cases involved African-Americans, reflecting a racial disparity in such convictions.

"In as much as the conduct for which the defendant was convicted is no longer criminal, setting aside the conviction and dismissing the case serves the interests of justice," the order states.

ADVERTISEMENT

 Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes welcomed the decision in a press release..

"Take a moment to recognize the significance of the seven judges finding that 'setting aside the conviction and dismissing the case serves the interests of justice,'" he said.

"542 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."

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said in the press release that this decision was one step towards fixing problems she believes have been created by the war on drugs.

"We’ve taken another important step to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs, and to build true economic opportunity for all," Durkan said. 

Specifically, she referenced the filing's argument that African Americans are disproportionately convicted for marijuana possession.

"While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we will continue to act to give Seattle residents - including immigrants and refugees - a clean state," Durkan said.

The order pointed to the racial demographics of the 500-plus cases, which were 46 percent white, 46 percent African American, 3 percent Asian, 3 percent Native American, and 2 percent unknown. 

The Court observed that this was disproportionate with the Seattle population.

According to the most recent U.S. census data, white people make up 69.2 percent of the Seattle population and Asians 14.1 percent, while African Americans make up 7.1 percent and Native American 0.6 percent.

However, the Court was unable to determine if the demographic statistics for the convictions, which came from a brief city prosecutors filed in April,  were "100 percent accurate."

Additionally, the Court did not conclude "that the individual defendants were specifically impacted because of their race."