To continue the effort to decriminalize minor marijuana possession, Seattle prosecutors are seeking to dismiss over 500 marijuana possession convictions. This move is a logical extension of Seattle's decision to stop prosecuting minor marijuana possession charges in 2010. Under current Washington State law, none of these defendants would be prosecuted today.
In total, Seattle prosecutors have identified 542 individuals that have minor possession convictions. A municipal judge will review each case before ultimately considering the prosecutor's request to dismiss the convictions. If the convictions are overturned, they will no longer be reflected on a person's criminal record. It's worth noting, however, that for many the original arrest will remain on their record even if the conviction is dismissed.
The removal of a marijuana conviction can have a significant effect on someone's life. A conviction, even for a misdemeanor charge, can have significant implications on employment opportunities, immigration status, and the ability to travel. For Seattle Major Jenny Durkan, the dismissal of these convictions is a necessity. “The war on drugs in large part became a war on people who needed opportunity and treatment,” said Durkan. “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."
Seattle's move away from criminalized marijuana began in 2003. That year, the city voted to require marijuana possession to be the lowest priority for law enforcement. In 2010, the newly-elected City Attorney Pete Holmes announced he would no longer prosecute simple possession cases regardless of how many citations police wrote.
Not long after, the entire state followed suit by decriminalizing marijuana possession statewide in 2012. In 2014, Washington went a step further by allowing legal marijuana sales at regulated stores beginning in July of 2014. The step of allowing legal marijuana sales led to conflict between some law enforcement officers and City Attorney Holmes, who in late 2014 refused to prosecute more than 80 minor possession tickets written by one officer upset with the legalization effort. The arrests caused a backlash in Seattle after it was revealed the officer mainly targeted homeless and minority men.
Seattle isn't the first major city to wipe out misdemeanor possession charges. With California's legal marijuana system operational, several large cities in the state are reviewing marijuana-related convictions. In San Francisco, prosecutors threw out thousands of misdemeanor possession charges and are considering over 4,000 felony charges that could be overturned as well. The prosecuting attorney in San Diego is carrying out a similar review of prior marijuana convictions.
Despite Seattle's efforts to decriminalize minor marijuana possession, there are still some drug-related charges enshrined in Washington State law. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime, you deserve an attorney who will advocate fiercely for you. It's imperative that you contact an attorney immediately after your arrest to allow for enough time to properly prepare for your defense. If you face criminal charges in the Seattle area, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi for your free consultation today.