SEATTLE — More than five years after Washington state legalized marijuana, Seattle officials said Thursday they’re moving to automatically clear past misdemeanor convictions for pot possession — a step similarly announced by San Francisco last week.
“For thousands of people in Washington state, a misdemeanor marijuana conviction had huge implications: It could be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs and education,” Mayor Jenny Durkan told a news conference. “It is a necessary step to right the wrongs of what was a failed war on drugs.”
City Attorney Pete Holmes, who was one of the sponsors of Washington’s 2012 ballot measure to legalize pot for recreational use, said he’s been pressing since it passed for a state law that would help clear prior convictions. But the Legislature has yet to act, and Holmes said he hoped the city’s action would spur other jurisdictions and the state itself.
Eight states have now legalized marijuana for recreational use, and some, including Oregon, California and Colorado, have made it easier for people to petition to have their pot convictions vacated or sealed. But Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego appear to be the only major jurisdictions erasing convictions without even requiring the defendants to request it.
Seattle has long taken a lenient view of marijuana. It’s been home to HempFest, a “protestival” where huge crowds of people openly smoke pot, since 1991. And in 2003, voters passed a measure making minor pot crimes the Seattle Police Department’s lowest priority.
The city doesn’t actually have that many convictions to clear: between 500 and 600 over the span of about 13 years, Holmes said. They date from about 1997, when the Legislature dictated that municipal courts, rather than county district courts, would handle those misdemeanors, and 2010 — when Holmes became city attorney and stopped prosecuting low-level pot cases entirely.
Read the full story at thecannabist.co.