GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With the swipe of a pen in Detroit, people in West Michigan could soon see sweeping change.
Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan “Clean Slate” bill into to law that reforms expungement laws and makes it easier for people who have prior cannabis offenses to wipe their records.
The bill does the following:
- Creates an automatic process for setting aside eligible misdemeanors after seven years and eligible non-assaultive felonies after 10 years.
- Expands the number and revises the types of felonies and misdemeanors eligible to be set aside by application.
- Revises the waiting periods before being eligible to apply.
- Treat multiple felonies or misdemeanor offenses arising from the same transaction as a single felony or misdemeanor conviction, provided the offenses happened within 24 hours of one another and are not assaultive crimes, or involves possession or use of a dangerous weapon, or is a crime that carries penalty of 10 or more years in prison.
- Expands expungement eligibility to various traffic offenses
- Allows a person to petition to set aside one or more marijuana offenses if the offense would not have been a crime if committed after recreational marijuana use by adults became legal in the state.
Local cannabis reform advocates say this is a change they’ve been waiting on for years.
“In reality, the (current) expungement process is far too difficult to navigate for most Americans. That’s in Michigan and that’s abroad,” said Denavvia Mojet, who is the founder of The Black and Brown Cannabis Guild.
Mojet’s organization was founded in 2018. While they help anyone who needs it, their focus is giving a fresh start to black and brown people who have been marginalized by the war on drugs.
“A lot of people are familiar with the war on drugs. They’re more familiar with the high-level policy but not specifically how it was implemented on the ground and who it disproportionately impacted,” said Mojet. “Black people were four times more likely to get arrested or to get convicted on a marijuana-related crime than their white counterparts, although studies show that we use at the same rates.”
Mojet hosted an expungement event in 2019 to help connect more than 400 people with resources and legal support for the expungement process. She says this legislation could be a big help in streamlining the process.
“Those convictions have been a barrier to people getting employment, to people getting housing, getting education and have really diminished the capacity for people just to have a quality of life that they need,” said Mojet.
Casey Kornoelje, who owns medical marijuana dispensary Pharmhouse Wellness, says having been through the expungement system, he’s very familiar with the barriers that still exist for cannabis offenders.
“I went through the expungement process in 2009 and had to go in front of the attorney general’s office, the Michigan State Police and the district attorney. It’s a long process and one that most folks I don’t think are even familiar with or know how to navigate,” said Kornoelje.
Kornoelje says he was denied several employment opportunities in the past as a result of his felony conviction. He now works to give job opportunities to people in the same position.
“I’ve never thought that it was a crime to possess or consume (marijuana), but for folks that were in the industry and may have received disparate treatment from it, we recognize that. We were there with you and we want to lift those people up,” said Kornoelje.
Cannabis advocates say while the new legislation is a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.
“Passing bills is great, but as we saw with the current statutes, if only 6% of people are using it, it doesn’t really matter what’s on the books. All that matters is what we’re doing to get those laws to really impact that lives of people here in Michigan,” said Mojet.
The state plans to create an automated system over the next two years for expungements of misdemeanors after seven years and certain felonies after 10 years. Offenses that involve assault, weapons or felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison are not eligible. It also does not apply to offenses related to impaired driving.
Some parts of the “clean slate” bill will take effect in 180 days.
Mojet says she would like to next see clemency for offenders who are still behind bars for things that are legal now. She mentioned the case of Michael Thomas, the longest-serving non-violent offender in Michigan.