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New laws allow expungement of marijuana offenses

October 13, 2020
Live Hash Rosin at the new East Lansing marijuana dispensary Pleasantrees on Sept. 28, 2020.
Live Hash Rosin at the new East Lansing marijuana dispensary Pleasantrees on Sept. 28, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed multiple bills Monday to address criminal expungement reform, including legislation allowing for the erasure of marijuana-related crimes. 

The bipartisan House Bills 4980-4985 and House Bill 5120, which were first presented to the congressional chamber in September and October 2019, seek to provide a “clean slate” for residents in allowing them expungement for certain misdemeanor and felony offenses. 

The governor said these laws will break barriers to employment and housing opportunities that many with nonviolent criminal records face.

“This is a historic day in Michigan," Whitmer said in a press release. "These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people. I am proud to sign these bills today alongside Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and many of the bipartisan leaders who worked on them.” 

One of the changes proposed in the bills would allow a person to petition to expunge one or more marijuana offenses if the offense would not have been a crime if committed after Dec. 6, 2018, the day the use of recreational marijuana by adults became legal in the state. 

Additional proposals signed into law include the creation of an automatic process for setting aside eligible misdemeanors after seven years and eligible non-assaultive felonies after 10 years, expansion of the number and types of felonies and misdemeanors eligible to be expunged by application, the treatment of multiple non-assaultive felonies or misdemeanor offenses with charges under 10 years arising from the same transaction as a single felony or misdemeanor conviction and expansion of expungement eligibility for traffic offenses. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel praised the signing of the bills, citing the changes to accessibility. 

“Prior to being elected, I served as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Wayne County as well as a criminal defense attorney,” Nessel said in the statement. “I can tell you from first-hand experience that the expungement process in our state was in serious need of reform. We not only needed to expand the types and numbers of offenses that could be eligible for expungements, but we also needed to make that process more accessible to our residents. This package of bills accomplishes both of these missions and that is why I consider it a step forward in Michigan’s effort to implement lasting criminal justice reforms.” 

The reform laws were lauded by the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC), which played a significant role in their passage.

“MLBC has provided leadership on this issue by co-sponsoring and ferociously stewarding the ‘Clean Slate’ legislation through committee and final passage,” MLBC chairman Sen. Marshall Bullock II, D-Detroit, said. “We are pleased that Governor Whitmer has helped us make history by signing an expungement reform package that will transform thousands of lives.”

According to a study published by MLive, Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses than white people. Black men are 3.5 times more likely than white men to be arrested for marijuana, and black women are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for it than white women.

Research conducted by the University of Michigan Law School found that people who receive expungements see a 23% increase in income within a year, thereby leading to more resources and a broader tax base without any negative impact on public safety.

State Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, stressed the importance of these bills in maintaining public safety while giving back to the community.

“Every public servant strives to work on policies that give Michiganders more opportunities to access jobs and educational opportunities,” Filler said. “These expungement reforms will do just that, while at the same time increasing public safety and helping keep people invested in their communities. I was proud to work in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to get these nation-leading reforms done.” 

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