Seattle asks judge to vacate more than 500 misdemeanor pot convictions

SEATTLE -- In an historic move, the City Attorney Pete Holmes on Friday asked the Municipal Court to vacate about 542 misdemeanor marijuana charges.

Holmes made it a campaign issue back in 2009.  The city hasn’t prosecuted those cases since.  Now that recreational marijuana is legal, some city leaders argue it’s now time to drop those misdemeanor convictions.

“I can just walk in and buy weed,” said Seattle resident Tarek Akkari.

That’s exactly what Tarek and Sheridan did at Diego Pellicer marijuana shop in Seattle without the fear of getting arrested.

“People are still dealing with their charges from just a little bit of weed,” said Tarek.

That’s part of the reason why Holmes wants 542 misdemeanor drug cases dropped -- and he has the mayor’s support.

“While we cannot reverse all the harm that was done, we can give back to those people a record that they were not convicted,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Drug charges from 2010 continue to haunt Tyler Markwart’s life.

“It’s really difficult to get any sort of housing, job, anything that requires a background check.  Certain countries, I can’t travel to. I can’t travel to Canada, for instance,” said Markwart.

He was charged with several felony drug-related offenses after he says he was simply trying to run the state’s first medical marijuana research facility and distribute medical marijuana in 2009 when he was living in Pullman.

“The Quad City Drug Task Force… they thought I was a big-time drug dealer and making a lot of money,” said Markwart.

His case went to the state’s Supreme Court.  While some charges were dropped, he still has three felonies on his record.

“There was this mentality at the time that drugs are bad, marijuana is bad,” said Markwart.

Certain communities took the brunt of the War on Drugs.  In Washington, black people were arrested three times as much as white people for small amounts of marijuana.

“Those charges disproportionately affect people of color and now white business owners can sell weed,” said Sheridan Robak.

While pot shops are still popping up, those with previous offenses are still dealing with the consequences.  That’s why Markwart says the move to vacate misdemeanor offenses doesn’t go far enough.

“Until we truly legalize marijuana by removing it from the Washington state-controlled substance act … we’re not solving the problem,” said Markwart.

Ultimately, it’s up to the Municipal Court judge to decide what happens next.  He can either vacate the cases immediately, ask for a hearing, or deny the city attorney’s motion.