Editorial: Clear petty marijuana crime records

The Detroit News

Recreational marijuana use has been legal in Michigan since December of last year, and medical use has been legal since 2017. The past should be reconciled with the present. The records of people who are still suffering undue punishment for minor marijuana offenses should be expunged. 

In this April 20, 2016, file photo, a man smokes a marijuana joint at a party celebrating weed in Seattle.

Sena Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced Senate Bill 416 to the Michigan Legislature last week to automatically wipe away the criminal records of 235,000 citizens who have been convicted of possession or use of marijuana.

These aren’t the complex cases, Irwin says. “That number represents people with minor infractions such as use or possession; it’s not talking about more serious crimes, like intent to redistribute or manufacture.”

For the most part, these are average citizens who have already paid their debt to society, but who, because of their conviction, continue to miss out on employment and education opportunities for activity that would be legal today.

The proposed pardon would come at no cost to the record holders. This is important because ponying up for a lawyer to pursue an expungement case is expensive. Citing a University of Michigan study, Irwin says only 6 percent of those eligible to have their record set aside actually seek that relief. 

“I don’t want local courts to have to deal with 235,000 pieces of paper asking for relief from these petty offenses,” Irwin says. “Marijuana possession? Are you kidding? Let’s just en masse in one efficient process take care of this.”

Removing records that have been made irrelevant by marijuana legalization would make 250,000 citizens eligible for a host of opportunities for which they would otherwise be overlooked, cleaning the slate for many who deserve a fresh start.

Remember, these aren’t drug dealers we are talking about.

They are average people who got caught with a substance that is now legal. It makes no sense that they would continue to pay a price today for past indiscretions that no longer rise to a criminal offense. 

Today, the only way your smoking habits are your boss’s business is if you make it so. Start showing up to work late and smelling skunky, well, that’s your own problem. 

There’s nothing a court can do to save you from being a lazy bum. But it can — and should — remove irrelevant records and give a clean slate to those who need one.