Seattle is vacating more than 500 past cannabis charges

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Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

Many people who were charged with misdemeanor crimes in Seattle, Washington related to cannabis will soon get some much-needed relief. This is because municipal judges in the city have decided to vacate 542 charges that occurred before the state legalized cannabis. This is an effort to help undo some of the damage caused by the War on Drugs.

“I think it’s a great effort by Seattle on behalf of people that have been unjustly affected by the War on Drugs,” Sam Mendez, a cannabis attorney and the former director of the University of Washington’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project, told Cannabis News Box. “It doesn’t extend beyond Seattle, and it does only affect misdemeanor convictions.”

Those who have felony convictions related to cannabis will have to attempt to get their record expunged separately. This can be a long process, but many are already working on doing so.

Mendez said this is a step in the right direction, and it will especially help people of color who were disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs. “This conviction did disproportionately affect people of color, particularly black people,” he said. “This will disproportionately help people of color, which is a step in the right direction.”

While Seattle is only 7 percent black, nearly half of the convictions were for black residents. That’s true despite the fact black and white citizens use cannabis at roughly the same rate. Many cannabis advocates have stressed that this kind of racial justice is desperately needed in states that legalize cannabis.

“There are a lot of convictions at the state level, and there are efforts to roll back those convictions as well,” Mendez said.

While this effort will help hundreds of people in Seattle, Mendez explained that a statewide effort would help thousands of people. He is currently involved in helping push a plan like the one Seattle is moving forward with for the whole state.

Mendez pointed out that while Washington was quick to legalize cannabis, it hasn’t done as much for social justice relating to cannabis and the War on Drugs as some other states have. He said it’s good that Washington is working on that aspect of its legalization efforts, and he hopes to see much more progress soon.

Legalizing cannabis is a great way to stop people from being pushed into the criminal justice system over possessing or using it, but states also need to recognize and help those who were already pushed into the criminal justice system because of cannabis prohibition. Slowly but surely, it appears more and more states are starting to do that.