As part of a broad criminal justice reform package, Michigan’s governor signed a bill into law that enables people with low-level cannabis convictions to have their records expunged. The new law goes into effect immediately.
As well as House Bill 4982, Gov. Gretchen Wilmer (D) signed a raft of criminal justice reform measures into law that facilitate expungement of various non cannabis-related offenses.
The marijuana expungement bill allows individuals to petition the courts to seal their records of misdemeanor cannabis convictions that would no longer be considered illegal since the state voted to legalize marijuana possession up to 2.5 ounces in 2018. One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said up to 235,000 Michigan residents with low-level cannabis convictions could be eligible for expungement.
While the process is not automatic, the wording of HB 4982 ensures the onus is on prosecutors to make a case against an applicant’s expungement within 60 days of the petition’s filing. If no objection to expungement is made or if such an objection is dismissed by the court, then the record is sealed from most prospective employers. There are some exceptions to this, such as government employers. Michigan’s law enforcement also keeps a nonpublic record of the cannabis conviction.
Another of the bill’s signed into law by Whitmer will establish an automated expungement process within three years for low-level offenses, including certain cannabis-related offenses. Individuals with misdemeanor convictions would have their records expunged automatically after seven years, while felony convictions would be wiped after ten years.
At a signing ceremony for the criminal justice reforms measures, Gov. Wilmer commended the legislature for resoundingly approving the bills and noted hundreds of thousands of people from Michigan had been unfairly burdened with criminal records for too long.
“During my 2018 campaign for governor I made expungement of marijuana charges one of my key priorities, and I’m so proud today that we can follow through on that goal,” Whitmer said. “For too long, criminal charges have created barriers to employment, barriers to housing and others for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. These bipartisan bills are going to be a game changer.”
The move was also applauded by NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.
“Thousands of citizens unduly carry the undue burden and stigmatization of a past conviction for behavior that is no longer considered to be a crime,” he said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that officials move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”
Michigan isn’t the only place where lawmakers are taking steps to give people convicted of cannabis offenses a fresh start. This month Colorado Gov. Jared Polis pardoned nearly 3,000 marijuana possession convictions, while Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 cannabis convictions the day before legal sales began in the state. New Jersey also recently enacted a marijuana expungement bill into law, while Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he wants to give states federal funding to help expunge marijuana-related convictions.