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Some states are expunging marijuana-related convictions. Why isn’t Michigan?

a group of marijuana leaves
Roberto Valdivia
Around 50,000 people in Michigan have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses in Michigan. Now that the drug is legal, advocates say those records should be cleared.

Now that recreational marijuana is legal in Michigan, what happens to the around 50,0000 people who've previously been convicted of marijuana-related crimes? Some in Michigan say those records should be cleared — a process called expungement — to remove the barriers that come with having a criminal record.

We talk to Margeaux Bruner, political director for the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, about why advocates want to see an expungement law in place, and what would have to happen before the state could start clearing the records of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses.

In Michigan, it’s now legal for adults to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana outside of their home, and 10 ounces inside of their home.

“What does that mean for all the people who had arrests that were under that possession limit? What does that mean for people even who had possession limits that were above, but are just deemed citations now, and not actual criminal convictions?” Bruner asked. 

Bruner says that the legalization of marijuana is raising questions like this in states across the country. On Tuesday's Stateside, we heard about California’s effortsto expunge the criminal records of those convicted of some marijuana-related offenses. The state is using a tool called Clear My Record, created by Code For America. The software helps speed up the process of searching through court files, looking for people who are eligible for expungement, and getting that process underway.

In California, the 2016 law legalizing recreational marijuana contained a provision allowing for reevaluation and expungement of marijuana-related convictions. Michigan’s Proposal 1 did not include such a provision. 

Bruner says that criminal records can have a huge impact on people’s personal and professional lives. It can stop you from getting into public housing, accessing student loans, and getting certain jobs. The best option, she says, would be for Michigan to adopt an automatic expungement law.

“Then you would just flip a switch, and on this particular date, it would have vanished from your record. You wouldn’t have to go to an individual magistrate and apply for expungement,” Bruner explained.

To do that, though, would require buying software like the Clear My Record program being used in California. That would require the state Legislature or individual municipalities to allocate money to do that. But Bruner says she’s seen broad support for the state moving forward on some kind of expungement law.

“Legalization is a very tricky thing, and there are some things that are kind of like low-hanging fruit essentially that people agree on. Whether or not you agree on legalization, now that we have it, you should have your record expunged,” said Bruner. 

If you are interested in this topic and would like to continue the conversation, join Joshua Johnson host of 1A this week in Detroit. Joshua will be hosting a community conversation this Thursday, May 16 at The Wright Museum. He will be discussing marijuana legalization and primarily its impact on minority communities. The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. More information is on the Facebook event.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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