What About Marijuana Expungement?

In 1972 Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act which made marijuana a schedule one controlled substance. This was despite the fact that The Report of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse had concluded that there was “little proven danger or physical or psychological harm from the use of cannabis”. Instead of heading this advice, Congress made marijuana federally illegal on the same level as cocaine, heroin and crack. Since that time hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested for non-violent marijuana related offenses. A majority of those people arrested were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony. Most were placed on probation or parole and many, many others had their personal freedom taken from them because they were incarcerated. Millions of dollars had been directly and indirectly paid in fines and costs. Employment opportunities were lost and careers ruined. The worst part? Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately affected African Americans, mostly men, by more than three times that of non-minorities. Think about that. Not only did it make absolutely no common sense to outlaw marijuana, it overly penalized an entire race of people whom had already been disadvantaged in our criminal justice system and in life.

Quite frankly, marijuana prohibition has been the worst federally public policy decision since slavery.

John Sinclair was originally from Flint but soon after made Ann Arbor his home. He was a poet, musician, writer and marijuana user. Like some marijuana users, he sold small amounts to his friends to make his habit more affordable. Possibly for political reasons (he was a founder of the White Panthers), law enforcement repeatedly investigated him using undercover (UC) officers purchasing very small amounts of marijuana. In 1969, for the act of selling two joints to an UC, he was sentenced to prison for 10 years in Michigan. He served over two years before his sentenced was over turned because it was cruel and unusual punishment. While this case may have been an extreme, every conviction and sentence to probation, jail or prison for marijuana is constitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

On November 6, 2018 Michigan became the 10th state in this country to legalize the adult use and possession of marijuana with the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. Thankfully, the Act decriminalized most offenses involving marijuana. What it did not do was expunge prior criminal convictions nor commute the sentences for those convicted of marijuana related offenses. Despite the fact that marijuana is now legal in Michigan, reversing the worst public policy in a century, there are thousands of people currently serving sentences. Every day that goes by to them is like hammer striking the nail that remains lodged in their back. Something has to be done about this immediately. Our legislature does not have the power to commute sentences. Our new Governor has to take action now with her power of commutation.

The day after Governor Whittmer was elected, she said she intends to use her clemency powers to free the thousands of people who are currently serving sentences for marijuana offenses. She also supported removing prior marijuana related convictions. “We will start taking a look at that and taking some actions early next year”. February is almost over and nothing has been done yet. She supported marijuana reform during her campaign. Now is the time to fulfill this promise. Every day that goes by is a slap in the face to those who most recently suffered for the sake of our liberation. They should not be forgotten. This is the will of the people, even those who voted against the MRTMA wanted criminal justice reform. It is the right thing to do and right now is the time to do it.