The state of Michigan might make history in expunging up to 235,000 records related to cannabis convictions, or part of them, should the new bill proposed by democrats pass. The bill was presented to the State House Judiciary Committee and would include the expungement of minor cannabis convictions for conduct which is currently legal under the law of adult-use marijuana passed in November 2019.
Of course, this process is not automatic and requires a few processes. However, it marks immense progress in laws affecting the use of cannabis. The bill could transform the lives of convicted individuals and allow them to live normal lives and secure jobs and houses sans a criminal record.
Reactions to the bill
The six-bill package has been received positively by both democrats and republicans. Should it pass, the expungement reform will make Michigan one of the United States’ leaders in cannabis reform and convictions. The bill is seen as a step in profoundly improving citizenry and acknowledging the inherent good in people.
The significant effort is also seen as a step in improving public participation when it comes to the law. The beauty of expunging an offense is that it does not appear in one’s record, thus dramatically improving the quality of life. Citizens have responded positively to the possible citing that some people may have made mistakes in desperation that they severely pay for over many years.
Expungement would mean that potential employers, landlords, and the general public would not be able to trace records of the ‘offender.’ With marijuana laws transforming and progressing at a rapid pace in the US, such laws become important as they take into account how previous laws affect people who were convicted of cannabis-related charges.
Even as a proposal, the bill marks immense progress and a shift from the stigmatization of marijuana, and pave the way for reform.
How it will work
After a specified period of time, the bill would automatically expunge the records of minor and low-level felonies related to cannabis. The process differs from regular expungement as it requires convicts to petition the court and stand in front of a judge who determines the validity of the expungement.
Crime related to marijuana will not be eligible for automatic expungement. The bill will expunge up to two felonies or four misdemeanors within ten years after conviction. The expungement would be affected by wide-ranging factors such as whether the applicant has not committed additional crimes or violated probation and parole.
The related felonies should not be violent or serious misdemeanors and should carry a sentence of fewer than ten years. This means that crimes such as rape, armed robbery, murder, and domestic violence will be ruled out for eligibility for expungement in Michigan.
Besides, crimes that already qualify for expungement will be added under this bill, such as traffic violations excluding DUIs and violations in work or school zones, accidents resulting in death and fleeing from traffic officers. Also, misdemeanors that are now legal will also be eligible for expungement under the new law.
The law would also allow people with up to three non-violent offenses will get up to two felonies and four misdemeanors expunged. Furthermore, it will dramatically reduce the waiting period from five years to three years. The bill will also dramatically reform felony convictions by treating similar crimes committed within one day (24 hours) as one felony rather than multiple felonies.
One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids reckons that this will impact the lives of people in Michigan in a positive light. With a criminal record, opportunities become limited and individuals may turn to harsher crimes to simply get by.
Numerous studies have also found that people with expunged records become better citizens as they feel less judged and accepted by society leading to lower rates of re-offending.
Another concerning factor is the education of convicts on their rights as a portion of people who commit expungeable crimes are not aware of the rights and how to navigate the justice system and end re-offending. Thus, it becomes important to educate prisoners on their rights.
The bill has been met with mixed reactions, particularly on the part of having to petition a court rather than clearing a record automatically. The main concern has been that people have to jump through hoops to clear a simple misdemeanor, which might be demotivating and frustrating. Many lawmakers feel such processes could be simplified as the courts are inundated with more serious criminal cases.
Like any bill, this one requires a majority vote in the next committee hearing and as cited by some members of congress, certain bills represent a compromise for law enforcement and civil liberty groups. The bill in its entirety as a proposal might not be fully accepted and this may fail many people facing long jail terms for cannabis convictions.
Should this bill pass, Michigan will be following states like Utah and Pennsylvania in automatic expungement. With the possibility of changing the lives of well over 235 000 people, this bill has become a critical discussion point in congress and as the introduction of the bill approaches in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what the reactions will be from the Senate and the governor’s desk.
Automatic expungement is the main focus of the bill because signing a petition and going before the court for 235 000 people is seen as ridiculous by State Reps like Rapids. As mentioned, cannabis-related small crimes are usually a result of bad judgment and criminalizing individuals for being in possession of marijuana affects their lives negatively.
However, the court petitioning may demotivate some individuals, or they may not be informed of it and continue to struggle under oppressive conditions.
Most convicts are marginalized in society no matter how small or petty crime; thus, their talents and skills are compromised. The city has also hired more full-time attorneys to manage these expungement cases.