On Friday the city of Seattle filed a motion asking the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate hundreds of marijuana-possession convictions going back three decades and adversely impacting people of color.
City Attorney Pete Holmes acknowledged the racial disparity in marijuana convictions, citing an ACLU report showing that African Americans are more than three times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than whites, despite the facts that blacks and whites use weed at the same rates.
“As we see marijuana sold in retail storefronts today, people who simply had a joint in their pocket a decade ago still have a red mark on their records,” Holmes said in a statement, according to The Stranger. “It’s long past time we remedy the drug policies of yesteryear, and this is one small step to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color. I’m hopeful the court will choose to clear these charges.”
Marijuana is now legal in the state of Washington; voters approved its recreational use in 2012. A 2017 report forecasts that the state will take in about $730 million from sales of legalized marijuana over the next two years.
In February, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the proposed reversals in a press release, saying that the move would affect 542 people who have weed convictions on their records.
“Vacating charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession is a necessary step to correct the injustices of what was a failed war on drugs, which disproportionately affected communities of color in Seattle,” the Democratic mayor said.
“The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment,” she added. “While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we must do our part to give Seattle residents—including immigrants and refugees—a clean slate.”
The Hill reports that Seattle is following in the footsteps of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who in February dropped more than 50 criminal charges against residents for marijuana possession, in a radical policy shift that he says should free up “[police] resources to solve homicides.”
As is now accepted fact, the so-called war on drugs laws has decimated the African-American community, with marijuana criminalization oftentimes becoming the first contact many have with a grinding criminal-justice system that won’t let them go.
The arrests can stay on their records for years and impact their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits.
This video, put out by the Drug Policy Alliance and narrated by Jay-Z, runs down some of the disturbing stats.
The question now becomes, is 1,000 or even 10,000 vacated convictions enough to turn the tide of the adverse effects of mass incarceration?