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How long should you be punished for something that’s now legal?

On Behalf of | Nov 25, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

In 2018, Michigan legalized recreational marijuana. There were many who saw this as a big win, but there were also a lot of small-print caveats.

As Michigan Public Radio noted, the law made it okay to smoke pot, but not to buy it. You can only smoke it in private. You still can’t carry it across state lines. There was also, suddenly, a strange divide between today’s recreational users and yesterday’s convicts.

Lawmakers look to clear past marijuana crimes

Drug convictions have a way of haunting users long after they have paid their dues. Fines and jail time may be primary consequences, but there are other consequences that follow a conviction. These are called collateral consequences, and they include such things as:

  • Difficulty landing a job
  • Revocation of professional licenses
  • Barriers to loan applications and home ownership
  • Loss of eligibility for some government aid
  • Loss of right to vote
  • Loss of right to carry firearms

Only a few of these may apply to people who convicted on misdemeanor charges. Someone convicted of a felony could be stuck with all these extra consequences. But these consequences aren’t always permanent. Some convicts can clear their records and earn a second chance at a life free of these problems. However, there are limits on what people can set aside, and they often need to wait years to become eligible.

Fortunately, as Bridge Magazine reported, state lawmakers have recently advanced a bill that would make it easier for people to set aside past convictions. It would:

  • Increase the number of convictions people could set aside
  • Reduce the number of years people must wait to apply
  • Automatically expunge some old offenses
  • Require judges to set aside some marijuana convictions for misdemeanors that would now be legal

Of course, this last point offers hope to those who were convicted shortly before the state’s marijuana laws changed. And the bill sets a time limit of 80 days from the application to set aside those convictions. Unless prosecutors object within that time, they go away.

Future versus current law

The bill passed out of the House with bipartisan support. However, it’s not yet law, and there’s no guarantee it will become law. For now, people still need to apply for expungement under the old system.

As Bridge notes, this system can be dizzying for many people, and only 12% of the people eligible to set aside their convictions will successfully do so. Still, people might feel it’s worth the headache or legal fees when they learn one of the first benefits of an expungement is an 23% average wage increase.