Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes’ decision to request that Seattle Municipal Court vacate all misdemeanor marijuana convictions prosecuted before pot was legalized in Washington now has Pierce County’s chief prosecutor considering the same course of action.
“I share Seattle’s concern about fairness, job opportunities and the disproportional impact that marijuana misdemeanor charges have on people of color,” said Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. “We are looking into this. Our misdemeanor chief is in contact with Seattle to learn from their process and how they’re doing it.”
Durkan’s and Holmes’ decision has the potential to vacate more than 500 misdemeanor convictions from court records, representing cases prosecuted by Seattle Municipal Court between 1997 and 2009. Lindquist gave no indication as to how many convictions could be vacated from Pierce County Superior Court records, but the estimate is likely significant.
In Washington, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana misdemeanor convictions have been particularly discriminatory on people of color. In the first decade of the 21st century in our state, African Americans were arrested at 2.9 times the rate of whites; Latinos and Native Americans were arrested at 1.6 times the rate of whites.
Lindquist said his office has been following closely the evolution of how to correctly pursue marijuana prosecutions ever since pot became legalized in the state in 2012.
“As soon as the initiative passed, we dismissed all of our pending cases,” Lindquist said. “There have been some large-scale marijuana prosecutions in Pierce County (involving firearm-related charges) but no longer any personal-possession charges (which are classified as a misdemeanor).”