Expungement Efforts After Legalized Marijuana

. October 31, 2019.

Prop 1, one year later, 235,000 still waiting to expunge low-level marijuana convictions

By Charmie Gholson

Last November, Michigan voters approved Proposal 1, The Taxation and Regulation of Marihuana Act of 2018, making Michigan the tenth US state to legalize marijuana possession and use for any adult, 21 and over. The citizen-led initiative decriminalized most marijuana offenses but stopped short of addressing the reform of Michigan’s cumbersome and inaccessible expungement process.

Now, one year later, over 235,000 people are still waiting to have their criminal records cleared of low-level marijuana convictions.

Michigan’s current expungement legislation requires petitioning the court, paying $50, fingerprinting, a notarized application, with copies sent to law enforcement, and attending a hearing. A judge has the final say on whether to seal the conviction.

Margeaux Bruner is a Detroit native and founding member of the National Expungement Week campaign. She oversaw several clinics in September that helped people apply for expungement. People struggle to navigate the legal system while being prosecuted, and that factor remains when they attempt to clear their criminal records.

“This is the most at-risk population,” she told Current. “This policy, Michigan’s expungement process, serves as a web to ensnare people young and old into homelessness, unemployment and food insecurity for undefined periods of time. Criminal records can preclude you from senior and assisted living facilities, and there is a significant percentage of adults advanced in age who need resources.”

Legislative Efforts

A bipartisan group of legislators recently introduced a six-bill reform package (HB4980-4985) to expand the state’s expungement program for all crimes. These bills include automatic expungement, except for cannabis convictions.

In response, Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a stand-alone bill that corrects the weaknesses in the package directly affecting people with marijuana convictions. SB416 eliminates the need to petition the courts and would automatically clear misdemeanors involving low-level marijuana use and possession for those who have long gone without reoffending.

CHANGES PROPOSED TO EXPUNGEMENT BY SB416

  • Ability to apply regardless of the number of marijuana convictions
  • Relief for any crimes made legal by the 2018 initiative
  • Relief for attempting to follow the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2018
  • Reduces cost by half-from $50 to $25

“Currently, people can only apply for up to one felony and two misdemeanors,” Irwin told Current. “My bill allows people to seek to set aside their record regardless of how many cannabis misdemeanors or felonies they have.”

Another critical aspect of SB416 is reversing the prosecution of state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients and caregivers who were prosecuted and convicted of marijuana crimes even though they registered with the state and have documentation of operating in compliance with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA).

“A lot of people have really been put through the wringer since 2008, due to aggressive prosecution and misapplication of the MMMA,” Irwin said. “These are people who attempted to be compliant, who had no criminal intent and were even told by local authorities that they were compliant.”

Decreasing marijuana arrests was one expected outcome of the 2008 Medical Marihuana Act, but that number went up not down. Medical marijuana registry participants expected to be protected from police encounters, but not all Michigan law enforcers agreed. Michigan State Police report a 17% increase in arrests for marijuana possession between 2008-2015.

No Longer a Felon

Lansing based attorney Josh Covert’s Cannabis Defender Law Office provided legal advice at several clinics during National Expungement Week, helping attendees complete forms. He tells a poignant story about one of his clients whose felony marijuana conviction was the only thing on his record.

“Having his marijuana conviction expunged meant so much to him. After we got his expungement in court he told me, ‘as soon as I leave the court I’m going to my parents grave.’” He was crying. He said, ‘I’m going to visit my parents grave and tell them I’m no longer a felon.”
That’s how much it means to some people, and to their parents.”

Were you arrested and prosecuted in Michigan between 2008 and 2019 for marijuana crimes that are now legal? We want to hear from you. Email okisay@yahoo.com for a questionnaire.

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