Last month, the City of Seattle asked the Seattle Municipal Court to take a look at hundreds of previous convictions for marijuana possession. They peered as far back as thirty years and vacated all of them. The reason that they asked for the motion is that legal scholars persuaded them that the convictions were biased and that they had unfairly discriminated against the African American community.

Pete Holmes, the City’s Attorney, maintains that there is a racial divide when it comes to marijuana convictions and jail charges in Seattle. With more than three times more African Americans being convicted than Caucasians (keep in mind this is after the case is brought to court). That statistic is shocking considering that there were an equal amount of Caucasian and African American arrests for possession. 

It makes no sense that there are storefronts that sell marijuana on every corner but people who were found with a simple joint in their pocket a few years ago are being adversely affected by being found guilty of possession. 

Although marijuana might not have been legal when the past cases were heard in court, there is no reason that so many African Americans are being treated differently than Caucasian individuals who have committed the same crime. 

In Washington, marijuana is now legal. In 2012, it was voted legal for recreational use. And, estimates are that the state will acquire as much as $730 million from the sale of legal marijuana in just the next two years. 

Settle Mayor Jenny Durkan was the first to shine attention on the proposed reversal of convictions when she announced in a press release that as many as 542 people who have marijuana convictions should be reexamined and that their charges lifted. 

Durkan insisted that there was a failure with the war on drugs mentality that destroyed the reputation of hundreds of people in the Seattle area. Instead of being convicted of a crime, it would have been more humane and appropriate, she argued, to order them to rehabilitative treatment instead of locking them up behind bars.

Although there is no way to reverse the stigma and harm that the drug convictions have done to Seattle residents in the past, there is a way to wipe the slate clean so that those convicted have more opportunities going forward.

Seattle is not the first state to consider this retroactive action. Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia District Attorney, dropped over fifty criminal charges for those in the city of Philadelphia who created a shift in the way that police were able to focus attention where it should be; namely on more dangerous crimes. Instead of targeting drug abusers, which is a victimless crime, police officers are now free to pay attention to more pressing issues. 

The so-called war on drugs has turned out to have way more consequences for minorities than it does for their white cohorts. Drug offense charges come with a host of unfortunate consequences like not being able to secure housing, loans, jobs or getting government benefits.

How overturning the convictions will help the city

If those who have minor drug offenses, like simple possession charges, were to have their charges reversed, they would be able to acquire gainful employment, have more secure housing, and perhaps work their way up the socioeconomic ladder. 

Young offenders who have possession charges have had their entire worlds taken. With a criminal record, your chances for moving forward are insufficient. With simple possession, many are finding it hard to maintain a job which often leads to a downward spiral to more drugs and more serious crimes.

It makes very little sense to hold people accountable for their past actions when they are now legal. If those same offenders were caught today, they would not be facing criminal charges, have their lives forever altered, or have the stigma of being a criminal; instead, they would be free to do as they please.

The reversal of possession of marijuana in Seattle is a humane way to deal with discrimination and a crime that is no longer a crime. To give hundreds of people the opportunity to start over and to excel is way more important than keeping a stigma to a victimless crime for hundreds of those in the Seattle area.