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Movement to Expunge Marijuana Convictions

By Michael Klazema on 11/5/2019

In Michigan, residents voted to legalize marijuana completely in the 2018 November election. In September 2019, a bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers banded together to propose legislation that would make expungement more accessible to offenders. While the legislation features multiple aspects including a shortening of the expungement eligibility window for certain offenses, a central part of it is an automatic expungement proposal for individuals with marijuana convictions. The argument in Michigan—as well as in other states that have legalized marijuana—is that individuals convicted of possessing or using marijuana should no longer have convictions on their records in light of the new state law.

Earlier in 2019, Illinois took a similar step when Governor JB Pritzker signed House Bill 1438 into law. The bill not only legalized cannabis in the state for individuals aged 21 and older but also automatically expunged marijuana crimes related to the possession of 30 grams or less. Individuals convicted of larger possession amounts (31-500 grams) may submit an expungement petition to the court.

Other states are seeking measures for the automatic expungement of marijuana convictions. In Wisconsin, where marijuana remains illegal, Governor Tony Evers has talked about expunging convictions for “low-level” marijuana offenses.

There is potential for the tidal wave of marijuana legalization and expungement to grow until it reaches a national scale. On October 24, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide and expunge all past criminal convictions related to the drug. Sanders argues that marijuana laws—and most drug laws—are disproportionately harmful to minorities.

His plan would use the power of executive order to reclassify marijuana on the federal level as a “dangerous controlled substance.” The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies cannabis among Schedule I substances, or drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The Sanders proposal will only move forward if his bid for the presidency proves successful.

Even without automatic expungement laws in place in most of the country, many ex-offenders with marijuana convictions are eligible to have those crimes expunged. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a program called MyClearStart which is designed to guide individuals through the expungement process.

In spite of new developments, employers are still at liberty to demand drug-free workplaces and require drug screening for jobs. Just because marijuana is legal in Michigan does not mean that employers in the state can’t disqualify a job candidate for failing a drug screening or fire an employee for being under the influence at work.


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