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Seattle activists call for government to knock down felony marijuana convictions

(AP)

Aaron Bosser knows a thing or two about marijuana. He was involved with the medical side of the market before recreational pot was legalized in Washington. He helped campaign organizers behind the initiative to legalize it ahead of the 2012 vote.

But Bosser won’t be involved with the recreational cannabis industry anytime soon.

“I have felonies,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

RELATED: Seattle pot shop owner responds to federal weed policy

When Washington voters passed I-502 in 2012, legalizing recreational marijuana, it opened up new business opportunities and created more jobs. But some are pointing out that one community is still being left out of that field — people with felony records. Now, the same community that suffered under decades of the war on drugs is asking that courts make things right by altering past charges related to marijuana.

“Since that time, what my inclusion in the cannabis industry has been is to get more — black men especially — into the cannabis space,” Bosser said. “Because they were the victim of the war on drugs … that removal of black men from the home was traumatic for the whole family … the trauma that was dealt upon the black family from the war on drugs, a war on the black family, a war on black men has never been dealt with.”

“So a lot of black folks are not getting involved in the legal cannabis space because you cannot sit there one minute and have a machine gun pointed at your head, told it’s illegal and you’re going to jail, then one month later, one year later, whatever it may be, and told it’s legal, go ahead,” he said.

Marijuana felonies

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Draze protests Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop in Seattle. (Naomi Ishisaka)

On Thursday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will ask its municipal court to vacate misdemeanor marijuana charges from before the legalization of pot. Seattleites such as hip-hop artist Draze are championing a call to knock down the felonies, too. Other cities have looked into similar actions.

“Big salute to the mayor for taking this step,” Draze said. “It was a checkers move. We want to move into the chess game. We are saying, how do we take it further for people with felony convictions. Those felony convictions really impact our community.”

“It’s legal and it’s the exact same activity (as dealing pot when it was illegal) … we are dealing with right and wrong at the end of the day,” he said. “The mayor was just dealing with something that was illegal. And she got rid of (misdemeanor) records. So we all know it is possible. It just happened … some would try to frame it and say it’s different if you go for felony charges.”

Former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio felony charges are a different issue. He said that vacating misdemeanors is a good thing, but felonies require court authorities beyond the city.

“Keep in mind that if is it a felony and we are talking about marijuana, that is likely to mean someone was arrested for trafficking,” McKenna said. “That’s a lot more serious. Trafficking is an offense under our current marijuana law, where we legalized it, decriminalized it, but we also strictly regulate it. We don’t want people buying and selling outside of that system and we don’t want people moving it out of the state.”

Draze, however, doesn’t see much of a difference on the corner of 23rd and Union in Seattle — a corner that was notorious for arrests involving marijuana dealing before legalization. It’s the same corner where Uncle Ike’s, Washington’s most successful pot shop, sells marijuana today. Draze wrote a song about it called “Irony on 23rd.”

“The people set up these rules and laws around right and wrong,” Draze said. “So if we are now saying this is OK and there are others sitting in jail, or who have felonies for this exact same … activity, then to me, we have to right that wrong.”

“There are a ton of us who have no desire to get involved, but we want everyone to have the right, and the right opportunity,” he said. “A lot of our people who are specialists in this area have felonies … we have people who want to get into this industry and they are locked out.”

“We do have to host a real conversation around ‘When we say felons, what do we mean?’” he added. “There are a lot of situations where it was a violent situation. I’m not for that … but I also understand the word ‘felon’ and the way it stigmatizes our people.”

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