Historic move: Seattle city attorney looks to vacate 500+ misdemeanor marijuana charges now that recreational pot is legal

SEATTLE -- In an historic move, the office of the Seattle City Attorney has asked the municipal court to vacate about 540 misdemeanor marijuana charges. City Attorney Pete Holmes made it a campaign issue in 2009, and the city hasn't prosecuted those cases since. Now that recreational pot is legal, some city leaders argue it's time to drop those misdemeanor convictions.

"I can just walk in and buy some weed," said Tarek.

That's exactly what Tarek and Sheridan did at Diego Pellicer Marijuana Shop in Seattle, without fear of being arrested.

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

That's why Holmes wants 542 misdemeanor drug cases dropped with the mayor's support.

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

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

"It's really difficult to get any sort of housing, job, any sort of thing 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 back in 2009 when he was living in Pullman.

"The local Quad City Drug Task Force had thought I was this big-time drug dealer who was making a lot of money," said Markwart.

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

"There was very much this whole mentality at that 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 legally," one person said.

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 the misdemeanors doesn't go far enough.

"Until we truly legalize marijuana by removing it from the Washington State Controlled Substance Act, we're not actually solving the problem that's destroying our communities," said Markwart.