Mayor Jenny Durkan announced this morning that Seattle will vacate convictions for people charged under the city's misdemeanor marijuana possession ordinance, a small but welcome step toward making amends for the failed and racist War on Drugs.
According to the City Attorney's office, the move will affect "approximately 500 convictions." That's a tiny fraction of Washingtonians turned into criminals for carrying a plant that is now legal in their state.
As Seattle Times columnist Jonathan Martin noted a few years back, more than 129,000 state residents were arrested for possessing small quantities of pot between 2000 to 2010. (I've asked the courts to send me more recent figures and will update this post when I hear back.) Many, if not most, of those Washingtonians still have a blemish on their record that could affect their ability to find housing, employment, student loans and more. For undocumented immigrants, the stakes are even higher.
Nevermind that Durkan's announcement represents the least she can do, she's not even the person in Washington who can do the most.
I've asked Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and King County Executive Dow Constantine whether they'll follow Durkan's move. I'll update this post as their answers come in.
Tara Lee, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee:
The governor was just asked about this during his media availability.
He said that it is worthy of discussion. Previously, he has pardoned people with decades old misdemeanors for pot convictions [Editor's note: I followed up with Lee on this question. Inslee has pardoned three people for marijuana convictions.]
Today he said that he feels that it is a matter of weighing decisions for individuals with a blanket policy. And that he believes that we should not let decades old convictions keep people from employment or other opportunities now.
Alex Fryer, spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine:
Whitney Keyes at the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is fielding calls on this and providing response.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg::
When I-502 passed, we were the first prosecuting attorney’s office in the state to dismiss all pending marijuana prosecutions, but we did not undertake this kind of massive historical review. Our office supports the City of Seattle’s action to reduce the impact of old convictions for doing what the state now authorizes. The Municipal Court only saw simple possession cases of under 40 grams. We have jurisdiction for felonies, including selling, growing and possession of amounts with intent to distribute, so our review would necessitate looking at the case file to distinguish cases. We have been following the San Francisco District Attorney’s office to find out more as their standards seem reasonable. In order for our office to undertake this project, we would need some help, because all of our criminal division deputies and staff are already overloaded with prosecuting serious felony crimes.
Sydney Brownstone contributed reporting.