Irwin bill would clear marijuana-related crimes from records

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With marijuana now legal in Michigan, the state Legislature will soon see a bill to clear criminal convictions. 

In a statement, Senate Democrats say that legislation announced on Tuesday by state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) would “automatically clear the record for more than 235,000 people.

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State Sen. Jeff Irwin | Ken Coleman

Currently, someone with a marijuana charge has to apply to a court to have the conviction wiped from their record, but Irwin’s proposed bill would direct courts to automatically expunge the records of those with amounts of pot now deemed legal in Michigan. 

Irwin said he introduced Senate Bill 416 on Tuesday, but with the Legislature out-of-session, the bill was not yet available online.

Speaking with the Advance on Tuesday, Irwin said that with 56% of Michigan voters last year approving Proposal 1 — which legalized recreational marijuana — the work of clearing the criminal records, or “expungement,” of those previously convicted remains at the hands of the Legislature. 

Irwin said passing his proposed legislation would help to make sure that the “damage” done by the criminalization of marijuana — criminal records and incarceration — could be undone. 

As the Advance reported in March, expunging past marijuana crimes has been a major goal for many marijuana advocates and other leading officials in Lansing, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Whitmer: Process ‘underway’ to ax marijuana convictions

Attorney General Dana Nessel has previously dropped marijuana charges in certain cases, as well. 

Irwin said Tuesday that he’s had conversations with members of both parties in both chambers of the Legislature and sees broad support for the concept of expungement, but expects there to be considerable debate over the specifics. 

Irwin’s proposal would automatically expunge the records of the state’s lowest level offenders — about 235,000 people, he said. That would negate the existing expungement process which calls for going through the court system, likely with the assistance of a hired attorney. More complex cases, meanwhile, would still go through the court system. 

Nessel to drop marijuana charges against 4 defendants

A report earlier this year determined that only about 6.5% of people eligible for expungement go through the process due to the cost and inconvenience.

In a statement, Irwin said his bill aims to ramp up the number of those who can have their records cleared. 

“Automatic expungement for all of our lowest-level cannabis offenders allows people to move on with their lives and making it automatic is essential because many people can’t afford an attorney, or the legal fees associated with an application,” Irwin said. “Cannabis is now legal in Michigan and petty offenses in the past should be no barrier to getting back to work or school.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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