Each year, past marijuana crimes become less of an employment barrier for job seekers with those convictions on their records. The shift is one effect of marijuana legalization efforts, which have reshaped drug laws in the United States over the past decade.
According to Vox, 43 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a state where recreational use of marijuana is legal. Before 2012, no states had legalized recreational marijuana. Legalization is also reaching backwards: there is a growing push in states that have legalized marijuana to retroactively forgive marijuana convictions that pre-date legalization.
Since these offenses are no longer considered crimes, states are eliminating convictions that may still act as barriers to employment, housing, and other facets of life for certain ex-offenders. Similar to the ban the box movement, marijuana expungement is a significant trend in criminal background checks.
The latest states to join the movement are Michigan and New York.
In 2018, Michigan voters approved a ballot resolution to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The vote made Michigan the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana fully. On April 11, the state added new laws to make it easier for individuals with past marijuana convictions to petition for expungement.
Some states are embracing automatic expungement, and according to the Detroit Free Press, such a law is currently “in the pipeline” in Michigan that could take effect by April 23.
In the meantime, individuals with marijuana convictions will have to apply to have these offenses expunged. Michigan’s new expungement laws significantly expand eligibility for expungement, and the added eligibility doesn’t just apply to marijuana crimes. The laws also shorten the waiting period for expungement, open expungement for most traffic offenses, and allow individuals with multiple offenses to apply.
The new law in Michigan creates a “separate and streamlined process” to apply for expungement for individuals with misdemeanor marijuana crimes. Unless prosecutors specifically object, judges are legally required to grant expungements of misdemeanor marijuana offenses. There is also no longer a waiting period for expungement on these crimes, which means that offenders can apply for expungement immediately.
Michigan’s marijuana legalization arrived through a general election ballot vote. In New York, the state legislature only recently voted to legalize recreational marijuana. New York is among the states embracing the trend of automatic expungement: anyone convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana crime in the state will have that conviction automatically expungement from their record.
Advocates for marijuana legalization and expungement point out the disproportionate impact of marijuana and drug policing on minority communities. In an article exploring the new legalization and expungement law in New York, CBS News noted that in New York City in 2020, 94 percent of marijuana-related arrests were people of color—despite the fact that, statistically, white Americans are just as likely to use marijuana as Black Americans. Expungement not only removes marijuana convictions but also makes it easier for these individuals to pass criminal background checks for jobs, housing, loans, education, and other needs.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer resources and tools to help you understand expungement. One of those tools is MyClearStart, which includes an eligibility test that can tell an individual whether they have the option of petitioning for expungement.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments