by Scott McClallen
When State Sen. Jeff Irwin introduced a bill that would automatically expunge about 235,000 misdemeanor records for marijuana use and possession without going through the costly court system, he said he wanted to save taxpayers’ money.
“My proposal offers those who are misdemeanants who have possession or use convictions on their record be set aside automatically, without having to go through paperwork or hire an attorney,” Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, told The Center Square.
Noting that thousands of residents with a marijuana record often have difficult time finding a job, housing and obtaining student loans, Irwin said his measure would allow for the expungement of records through the Michigan State Police’s database He cited University of Michigan research showing only 6.5 percent of those eligible for expungement seek it due to time and cost restrictions.
“Those 235,000 people shouldn’t have to go through the expense and the process – it’s wasteful for our courts,” he said.
Cannabis cases constitute 9 percent of all arrests in Michigan, according to the most recent data, and Irwin pointed to Proposal 1 as a guide to allow legal marijuana consumption while still holding accountable those who drive impaired, sell to minors, or repeatedly violate commercial licensing laws.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she’s in favor of clearing low-level marijuana crimes from people’s records.
“For conduct that would now be legal, no one should bear a lifelong record for that conduct,” Whitmer said at her first press conference.
Counties also charge marijuana crimes differently. A person caught with a pound of marijuana may only be charged with misdemeanor possession in one county. In a surrounding county, someone with the same amount of marijuana could be charged with felony possession with intent to deliver.
William Vailliencourt, Livingston County prosecutor and president-elect of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, said prosecutors are willing to “tak[e] it case-by-case”, dismissing pending misdemeanor marijuana crimes now that recreational marijuana is legal.
Irwin said expunging marijuana charges and releasing inmates and those on parole and probation for those charges makes sense.
“I don’t think it’s very sensible for the taxpayers to be paying for court officers to be following up on these prosecutions when the law has been changed,” he told The Center Square.
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