Let’s say Michigan voters decide to legalize recreational marijuana use this November, or the legislature decides to approve it even sooner. What will happen to all of the people with felony or misdemeanor convictions, some of whom are serving jail time?
Other states that have recently legalized the recreational use and possession of marijuana have begun grappling with this issue. In Vermont, prosecutors are holding “Expungement Day” workshops to help people with paperwork to clear their records of minor marijuana convictions. Vermont Legal Aid is also assisting. Other states such as Oregon, Colorado, and Maryland have taken a similar approach, allowing defendants to petition to seal their marijuana convictions or petition for expungement.
Because of the time and expense involved with putting the onus on the defendants, some jurisdictions are discussing or implementing automatic expungement of certain convictions. San Francisco is both automatically clearing misdemeanor marijuana convictions without any required action from the defendants and reviewing felony convictions for potential reductions.
The sealing or expungement of these convictions could have immediate benefits for defendants, reinstating their ability to travel out of the country or compete for jobs. Advocates also say that expungement is critical to rectifying the historically disproportionate conviction of minority groups for drug crimes.
Here in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (which started the petition to put the legalization issue on the November ballot) initially wanted to include an expungement clause. They decided, however, that lumping the legalization and expungement issues together would weaken the proposal. Representative Sheldon Neeley has introduced a bill that would help people get misdemeanor marijuana convictions expunged or sealed. The bill was referred to the Committee on Law and Justice on June 12, but it’s unclear if or when it will get a hearing.