There continues to be some large gaps in justice when it comes to the state by state cannabis legalization movement. Among them is a key question; What happens to those individuals with cannabis offenses that took place before the laws changed? Believe it or not, many of them aren’t automatically, retroactively covered by new laws that decriminalize or legalize weed going forward. In Michigan, one senator is looking to right this wrong.
On Tuesday, Senator Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor presented a piece of legislation that would guarantee automatic expungement for those with past, low level cannabis misdemeanors on their records. Estimates project that the bill could affect around 235,000 people. That’s key, as criminal records can make a difference in people getting employment, or qualifying for state benefits. Automatic expungement would also dodge the high cost to the state of clearing cases individually in court.
“Automatic expungement for all of our lowest-level cannabis offenders allows people to move on with their lives and making it automatic is essential because many people can’t afford an attorney, or the legal fees associated with an application,” Irwin said, as reported by Click On Detroit. “Cannabis is now legal in Michigan and petty offenses in the past should be no barrier to getting back to work or school.”
In fact, only six percent of individuals with past marijuana crimes have participated in Michigan’s current expungement petition procedure.
“This is so important to a large number of people in Michigan, who when they’re applying for jobs or student loans, they’re put in a position where their record can affect their future,” said Irwin.
The bill’s introduction follows this week’s passage of legislation in New Hampshire that establishes a petition process for individuals with low level possession offenses committed before the state’s decriminalization in 2017. That bill does not, however, allow for automatic expungement. Automatic expungement laws have also been passed in California and Illinois, where possession of 30 grams or less of cannabis is now automatically pardoned by the governor.
The processes dictated by many states to apply for such expungements involve attorney fees, and potentially taking time off from work to attend court dates. Such measures are prohibitive, especially when we’re talking about the low income communities that were disproportionately affected by Drug War policing during their states’ prohibition eras.
Fifty-six percent of Michigan voters opted for a recreational cannabis system last year, but the state is still hashing out what, exactly, that business will look like. Earlier this month, Governor Gretchen Whitmer introduced a set of emergency rules that will allow local jurisdictions to see if they wish to opt into the system. The protocol she signed temporarily into effect includes a tiered licensing system, and allowances for on-site cannabis consumption for some events and retail locations.
Ever since legalization, some lawmakers have been concerned with how to extend social justice to past offenders. Last year, the proposed House Bill 6508 would have allowed for low level, incarcerated offenders to petition the state for their release. That bill stalled upon arriving at the House law and justice committee.