Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Attorney Pete Holmes recently announced that they are seeking to vacate as many as 500-600 misdemeanor charges for cannabis possession spanning the past two decades.
In 1997 the city took over the handling of misdemeanor cannabis cases from King County, and in 2010 the same Pete Holmes was elected and immediately dismissed all low-level pot cases and announced that his office would no longer be prosecuting them.
But during that gap in between, hundreds of people had their lives seemingly forever impacted by senseless charges on their record that could prevent them from benefitting from housing opportunities, job opportunities, parental rights, and so many other crucial aspects of life.
When the state legalized recreational cannabis use in 2012 the contrast could not have become any clearer – some people were saddled with a lifetime of missed opportunities due to cannabis while others profited greatly from it.
Now Pete Holmes the City Attorney, with the mayor by his side, is asking the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate/dismiss all misdemeanor marijuana possession cases that were prosecuted prior to the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012.
That court has yet to issue a ruling but even if they do rule in Holmes’ favor, there are some difficult questions that will need to be answered.
Will those affected by the ruling be allowed a new legal counsel on the matter?
What about the fines and the fees that they were made to pay over the years as a result of those now-rinsed charges? Will they be reimbursed for any of it?
Exactly who will be affected and how will they be notified?
Well, we have a partial answer to that last question.
The city plans to set up a website where people can visit to see if their past crimes are erasable.
As for notification… well, they have not announced the website URL and they argued in court that they should not be obligated to inform anyone since the move is a “benefit” if those impacted can take advantage of it.
Regardless, the move is courageous but it’s not the first time that this has happened. Last week, the San Francisco City Attorney announced his move to wipe out 3,038 cannabis-related misdemeanor charges and went even further, stating his intent to reduce another 4,900 felony cannabis charges.
Mayor Durkan is confident that the request will be approved by the court and hopes that the result will help to balance the racial disparity that she sees in the statewide legal system. Black people in Washington are nearly 4x more likely to be arrested for cannabis-related crimes than white people even though we all consume it at relatively the same rate.
Sadly, that number is pretty much the average around the country.
To see how this can impact an entire race you need look no further than the current landscape of legal cannabis businesses in Washington.
Of the 782 people with a financial stake in retail weed shops in the state, just 2.7% of them (21 people) are black even though black people make up 3.6% of the state’s adult population.
Latinos see even more disparity as they make up 9.5% of Washington’s adult population but hold just 3.6% of the ownership interests in retail cannabis outlets.
From funding to compliance there are a lot of barriers to entry when it comes to the legal weed industry, but having been popped for some victimless weed ‘crime’ in the past should not be one of them.
Cannabis legalization has come a long way since California blazed a brand new trail with Prop215 back in 1996 but the question has always remained – what about the weed warriors either sitting in prison or strapped with a tarnished record due to the same cannabis that is now being sold legally by suits and ties?
This trend is a step in the right direction.