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Credit: KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

Seattle wants to drop old pot charges and convictions

People with pot possession records in Seattle may be about to catch a break. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced today a plan to ask the city's municipal court to drop charges and vacate convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Marijuana was legalized by state voters back in 2012. But old convictions for possessing small amounts of pot are still haunting large numbers of people, the city said.

Having that mark could “be a barrier to housing, to getting credit, to getting good jobs, and an education,” Durkan said.

According to the city, in the 25 years leading up to legalization, nearly 250,000 people were arrested for possession statewide.

Durkan said racial justice was a major factor in today's announcement. African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans were far more likely to be arrested for these marijuana crimes than white people, according to the city.

Durkan also implied that the problem was much bigger than minor marijuana crimes. "The war on drugs was not only a failure, but it had implicit racial bias in it in Seattle, in the state of Washington, and across this country.” Holmes and Durkan said they would support moves to vacate some felony conviction records for marijuana as well, but that's beyond the city's power.

Even today's announcement will have a limited impact, however, since the city court only handled misdemeanor marijuana cases for a few years before City Attorney Holmes stopped charging simple pot possession cases when he came into office in 2010. Voters in Washington State approved legalization two years later. Holmes estimates around 600 people could be helped by the change.

For more people in the state to have their records vacated or expunged, entities like the state of Washington would need to act. And while at the state level, a similar reform proposal has been put forward, so far it’s failed to get out of committee.