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The Fight for Automatic Criminal Record Expungement in the Midwest

The Fight for Automatic Criminal Record Expungement
Photo by Taylor Kent for Cannabis Now


The Fight for Automatic Criminal Record Expungement in the Midwest

With the second annual National Expungement Week a little over a week away, the push for restorative cannabis justice continues to snowball, especially in Michigan, where lawmakers are poised to wipe the criminal records of an estimated 235,000 people.

The conversation around expunging the records of petty offenders is now a keystone of any real conversation on reforming marijuana laws. In Michigan, a few lawmakers have figured this out, following in the footsteps of their neighbors to the southwest in Illinois.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Detroit Free Press reported that low-level marijuana convictions in Michigan could be wiped clean as part of a package of bills expected to be introduced in the next week. But the Free Press also noted that folks will have to jump through some hoops to clear their criminal record, unlike other states and municipalities where the process is automatic.

Other bills have been introduced in Michigan that would make the process automatic, but due to the current politics of the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature, it’s going to be tough for those bills to pass.

A few progressive Michigan lawmakers are still pushing for automatic expungement, against the odds.

“People who have committed very petty crimes should be able to get rid of those without having to jump through additional hoops, including having to file hundreds of thousands of unnecessary applications with the courts,” Michigan State Sen. Jeff Irwin told the Free Press. Irwin backed one of the other bills that favored an automated option for expungements, as he said he was working to “make the policy the best it can be.”

Michigan voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2018, and its government is currently working to license recreational operators.

Not too far away in Chicago, the plan for “righting the wrongs of the past” is coming together after the state legislature legalized cannabis this June. Kim Foxx, who is serving as the State’s Attorney for Cook County — which encompasses Chicago, is pushing a collaboration between the Cook County prosecutors and Code for America, who have led the automated expungement effort as part of their Clear My Record campaign since 2016.

Code for America has seen a lot of success in helping Californians after Proposition 64 passed. After early successes in more urban areas, the program has now reached all 58 counties in California. CFA said in a press release that this builds on the five-county automatic record clearance pilot that proved the benchmark for the rest of the state. Through this pilot alone, approximately 75,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed or reduced.

“We are demonstrating that government can make good on its promises, especially to those who have been denied jobs, housing, and other opportunities because of their criminal record,” said Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America. “Clear My Record is igniting change across the state and the nation.”

Code for America just updated the process to be in compliance with a new California law around on how long the expungement process should take. Between that law and the new tech, California’s Department of Justice estimates 220,000 people could see their records cleared in California soon.

But if you don’t have access to automatic expungements, do not fear. National Expungement Week has doubled in size for its second year and will have events taking place from Sept. 21-28 across the country in 30 cities.

TELL US, do you think criminal records should be expunged after a state legalizes cannabis?

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