Seattle, Washington municipal judges decided to throw out an estimated 500 cannabis-related misdemeanors.
Seattle follows cities like New York City and Philadelphia, which have also dropped hundreds of cannabis-related criminal charges after laws have been relaxed.
This week, all seven judges on the court voted unanimously in favor of vacating convictions between 1996 and 2010. Of these convictions, 46 percent were with black defendants—a strange number, given the fact that the July 2017 census for Seattle found that only seven percent of residents were black.
“Possession of Marijuana charges prosecuted in Seattle Municipal Court between 1996 and 2010 disproportionately impacted persons of color in general, and the African American community in particular,” read the judges’ order. The statement continued to state that it had found no reason to assume that the convictions were racially impacted. Other convictions had defendants that were 46 percent white, three percent Asian, three percent native American, and two percent of unknown racial background.
The decisions was prompted by a motion to drop the convictions during that time by Seattle’s City Attorney Pete Holmes, who had argued that black residents were three more times likely to be arrested than white residents. Holmes’ office had stopped prosecuting cannabis-possession cases after he was elected in 2010. “We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspired other jurisdictions to follow suit,” said Holmes.
“We’ve taken another important step to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs, and to build true economic opportunity for all,” said Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, who believes the action will help tear down barriers of opportunity for those who had been convicted. “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 slate.”
Cannabis has been legal in Washington state since 2012, but the completion of the reparations of the past have yet to come.