More jurisdictions should follow Seattle's lead in vacating misdemeanor convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana — something that Washington state law no longer deems criminal.
A past conviction for something that is no longer considered a crime should not continue to damage someone’s future.
Yet to some extent in Washington state, that’s what has been happening with people previously convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana. These old convictions did not disappear six years ago, when Washington voters legalized recreational pot use by passing Initiative 502.
This month, however, the Seattle Municipal Court agreed to do what it can to fix that. At the request of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, the court’s seven judges agreed to vacate misdemeanor marijuana convictions and dismiss all misdemeanor pot possession charges dating from the years before legalization.
These Seattle judges, as well as the city officials that pressed the issue, deserve praise for ensuring people’s criminal records aren’t stuck in a bygone era. Together, they have done the right thing by recognizing they should not still be punishing people for activity that is no longer against state law.
Their decision stands to help as many as 542 people.
In the interest of justice, other jurisdictions in Washington state should follow suit by setting aside old convictions that involve the possession of roughly an ounce of marijuana or less — an amount that would be legal under state law today.
This would not create a free-for-all. The state’s legal marijuana law still has limits, including restricting pot use for those under 21 and banning marijuana use in parks and public places. These rules, too, must be respected — and enforced.
But fundamentally, Washington voters have approved a new, improved framework for addressing and adjudicating marijuana offenses.
People should be judged and held accountable based on the standards of today — not outdated ones our state has long since rejected.