Michigan’s Governor-Elect May Pardon Those With Marijuana-Related Convictions

Michigan voted blue. Now, they’re getting green.
Michigan's Governor-Elect May Pardon Those With Marijuana-Related Convictions
Gretchen Whitmer/ Facebook

Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan may pardon those with marijuana convictions after the state’s voters legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposal 1 on Tuesday. Whitmer, who was chosen by voters in the midterm election, said in a press conference on Wednesday that she may use her executive powers to grant clemency to incarcerated marijuana offenders.

“I think that the people of Michigan have said that for conduct that would now be considered legal no one should bear a lifelong record for that conduct,” Whitmer said.

“We will start taking a look at that and making some decisions and taking some action early next year,” she added.

Michigan’s Proposal 1 passed by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, state election officials reported on Wednesday morning. The measure legalizes the possession, cultivation, and use of recreational marijuana and creates a regulatory infrastructure for a commercial cannabis economy.

Even before parties celebrating the passage of Proposal 1 had finished, some reform advocates were calling for clearing non-violent marijuana convictions from offenders’ criminal records. State Senator Coleman Young II said that the passage of Proposal 1 offers an opportunity to take people out of jail and find them employment in a newly legal industry.

“Now I’m very hopeful that we can now work on getting these brothers and sisters out of jail and getting them into jobs, and that’s what I’m all about,” Young said.

Matthew Abel, an attorney with the Cannabis Counsel in Detroit, said that criminal records should be cleared of convictions for acts that are no longer against the law.

“We need to go back and add expungement for marijuana offenses; there’s nothing automatic about it,” Abel said.

Josh Hovey, the spokesperson for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group behind Proposal 1, told High Times on Wednesday that his group wanted expungement of cannabis convictions to be part of the initiative.

“Expungement was actually included in the very first draft of the proposal that we wrote and it was an incredibly important piece to so many of the people involved in developing it. But it came down to Michigan’s constitution only allowing for a single issue to be included in a ballot question,” Hovey said.

“Our legal counsel strongly advised us that we could be in violation of Michigan’s constitution if we went forward because the legalization of marijuana is one issue, and expungement of criminal records is a separate issue,” he added.

Governor-Elect To ‘Respect The Will Of The People’

At Wednesday’s press conference Whitmer said that she will take an active role in the implementation of regulations to create a recreational cannabis industry in the state.

“A lot of states have moved forward and it’s time for Michigan to move forward,” Whitmer said. “I will respect the will of the people. They’ve spoken, and so it’s on me to work with the attorney general to ensure that we have thoughtful regulations that we promulgate. That’s something that’s really important to me.”

Whitmer said that she will be receiving advice from officials in states that have already legalized recreational cannabis.

“We can learn lessons from other states,” said Whitmer. “I’ve already gotten some outreach from experts in states that have moved forward already so that we can avoid some of the pitfalls that they’ve encountered and do it smarter. I think that’s something that’s really important.”

Whitmer added that while public safety is an important issue, she wanted to make sure access to recreational marijuana is not overly restricted now that it has been legalized by the voters.

“I want to make sure our children don’t have access to recreational marijuana, but I also want to make sure we collect those taxes and that they are spent as the voters intended them to be,” said Whitmer.

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