Written by Stryder Wegener
Government officials in Seattle are working to vacate marijuana convictions. Following the lead of cities such as San Francisco, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan cited the racially disproportionate effect of marijuana sentences on people of color as the primary reason for the move. Indeed, both local and national data show that non-whites end up getting arrested more and being sentenced with harsher penalties for marijuana possession. These convictions can have devastating effects on people’s ability to maintain a high quality of life.
The possession of small amounts of marijuana was effectively de-criminalized in 2003 with the passage of Initiative 75, which made such offenses the lowest enforcement priority for Seattle police. And when Attorney Holmes took office in 2010, he stopped charging marijuana possession altogether. Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, so the move to vacate marijuana sentences will only apply to people who were convicted years ago, but who are likely still feeling the effects of their criminal record.
Mayor Durkan Announces Some Marijuana Convictions Will Be Vacated
On February 8, 2018, Mayor Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced that they would seek to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions. The announcement did not delve into the mechanics of how the vacations would take effect, which is important since the authority to vacate a conviction rests not with the mayor or prosecutor’s office, but with the municipal court.
In a guest editorial published in the local newspaper The Stranger, Mayor Durkan condemned the clear racial bias of the war on drugs towards the city’s communities of color. She then cited a study from Washington State which shows that, although usage rates are the same in both groups, African Americans were arrested almost three times more than whites for marijuana offenses. Latinos and native Americans were also disproportionately targeted.
When Will the Vacations Take Effect?
People with misdemeanor possession charges on their records will not need to hire a lawyer or go to court to vacate marijuana convictions. The process will be automatic. However, no one knows exactly when it will begin.
The files of around 500 people are expected to be affected. But before courts begin vacating marijuana convictions, the City Attorney’s staff and the court are attempting to determine if they can make these vacations count for immigration purposes. Non-citizens convicted of marijuana offenses may be ineligible for citizenship. In some cases, they could be targeted for deportation. Since marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under federal law, it is unclear how the city of Seattle will be able to show federal immigration officials that those marijuana convictions were baseless.
Call Emerald City Law Group for Help Today
Cannabis possession may be legal in Washington, but there may be circumstances in which you still need a marijuana lawyer. If you get caught growing or distributing cannabis on the black market, or possessing more than an ounce of the substance, you may face criminal charges at the state level. Since marijuana is still illegal federally, there are also many scenarios in which you might be charged with federal cannabis possession. In either case, a Seattle criminal defense attorney from Emerald City Law Group can help.