For six years, marijuana has been legal in Seattle and now the state is taking measures to overturn convictions of those sent to prison on misdemeanor charges, which disproportionately affect people of color.
According to CNN, all seven judges on the city’s municipal court agreed to vacate convictions from 1996 to 2010. Of the more than 500 cases during that time period, 46 percent involve African-Americans. The racial demographic of the other convictions include 46 percent white, three percent Asian, three percent Native American, and two percent unknown.
The convictions will be cleared by mid-November after the courts mail notifications giving the individual an opportunity to object or inquire about an individualized finding. Anyone who doesn’t respond will automatically have their conviction vacated.
Mayor Jenny Durken said the vacated convictions are a step in the right direction.
“We’ve taken another important step to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs, and to build true economic opportunity for all,” she said. “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.”
The motion to vacate misdemeanor marijuana charges was filed in April by city attorney Pete Holmes, who argued that black men and women were three times more likely to be arrested for possession than white people.
“Dismissing this charge reflects Seattle’s values and recognizes the negative collateral consequences of a drug conviction, including difficulty in finding employment or getting into college or the military, obtaining student loans or government subsidized housing qualifying for food stamps or other government assistance, being allowed entry into some foreign countries and obtaining child custody or adoption,” the motion stated.