News Story

Michigan Marijuana Offenders Languishing In Prison? Bills Would Change That

Just-signed New York law automatically clears records of past offenders

On July 29, the state of New York became the latest jurisdiction in the country to decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana.

The statute signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo also clears the record of those convicted under previous marijuana laws.

Decriminalization is clearly a national trend; according to the National Council of State Legislatures, 26 states (including Michigan) and the District of Columbia no longer treat pot possession as a criminal offense. But the legal rehabilitation of previous offenders is moving more slowly.

In Michigan, where voters approved recreational possession and use in 2018, thousands of individuals are in jail or live with criminal records for offenses that would be legal today. And it’s not clear when that situation will change.

State sens. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; and Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington; have introduced legislation (Senate bills 262-265) to require courts to review the sentences of those currently incarcerated or on parole or probation for low-level marijuana offenses. Courts would then “terminate” these sentences, subject to some limited exceptions.

“After the passage of Proposal 1, it’s time we rethink drug sentencing laws in Michigan, so let’s start with marijuana offenses, since those are no longer considered crimes under current law,” Santana stated in a news release.

Jarad Moffat of the Marijuana Policy Project called on legislators to move forward. “Michigan voters collectively decided that adults who consume marijuana responsibly shouldn’t be treated as lawbreakers. If your only offense was doing something that is now legal, you deserve a clean slate. We’re calling on Michigan lawmakers to do the right thing and stop delaying expungement for low-level marijuana offenses.”

Lawmakers may consider going further than that, under legislation Irwin just introduced. The text of Senate Bill 416 will not be posted online until the Senate returns from a summer break. But a statement on Irwin’s Senate webpage says, “The bill also extends additional opportunities for people convicted of growing or ‘possession with intent to distribute.’”

If adopted, Irwin’s bill could make an additional 25,000 people who were convicted of higher-level marijuana crimes able to seek expungement in court, according to the statement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she supports the idea of rehabilitating those affected by historic marijuana laws. Opposition, even from law enforcement officials, has been muted.

But to date, no hearings on the rehabilitation have been scheduled.