Michigan lawmakers approve bill that expunges marijuana offenses from criminal records

Michigan would automatically expunge criminal records and ease the application process for those convicted of marijuana offenses under sweeping "clean slate" bills that received final legislative approval Thursday.

Advocates said the overhaul would help hundreds of thousands of people.

Under the automated expungement process, which would begin in approximately 2 1/2 years, people convicted of crimes would not have to apply. Their conviction would be cleared seven years after their misdemeanor sentence, and, in the case of a felony, 10 years after their sentence or the conclusion of their prison term, whichever occurred last.

More serious crimes would not be eligible to be erased.

Photo credit: RICHARD BOUHET/AFP via Getty Images

The bipartisan six-bill package, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign into law, also would allow people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions to clear the offenses sooner if they would not have been considered crimes after voters' legalization of marijuana in 2018. They could start applying 180 days after the law is enacted-- late March or early April. 

Judges would be required to assume that past marijuana convictions would not have been violations unless a prosecutor responds within 60 days of the expungement application being filed. The evidentiary burden would rest on the prosecutor.

In Michigan, an expungement -- or set aside -- clears the public record of a conviction so it does not appear in a background check. Law enforcement still keeps a non-public record, but people no longer have to disclose their criminal past on job applications or other forms.

"The changes we're making are going to solidify our state as a national leader in criminal justice reform," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Graham Filler, a DeWitt Republican. "Making expungement cheaper, easier and available to more residents than ever before will remove the barriers that hold too many people back."

The legislation is intended to revamp what detractors said are complex, costly barriers to wipe away one's criminal past. Just 6.5% of eligible Michigan residents can successfully navigate the expungement process, amounting to a few thousand people each year, according to the Chicago-based Alliance for Safety and Justice.

The measures also would make many traffic offenses eligible for expungement, let more people with multiple crimes apply, and require multiple felony offenses to be treated as a single conviction if they occur contemporaneously -- within 24 hours, or as backers said, "one bad night."

The bills passed with at least 93 votes in the 110-seat House on Thursday and at least 29 votes in the 38-seat Senate the day before.

John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, which advocated for the clean-slate legislation, called the automatic-expungement bill the most expansive passed in any state. Other states only seal misdemeanors -- not felonies -- and unlike Michigan, exclude people from eligibility if they have unpaid fines, fees or restitution, he said.