LANSING, Mich. (Sept. 30, 2020) – Last week, the Michigan House gave final approval to a bill that would create a process to expunge certain marijuana convictions. Passage of the bill would allow people to clear their records and take another small step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect.
Rep. Luke Meerman (R) introduced House Bill 4982 (HB4982) last year with a large bipartisan coalition of cosponsors. Under the proposed law, people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions would be able to petition the court to have the conviction set aside. In effect, the expungement would clear all public record of the conviction. Law enforcement would still maintain a non-public record. Under the law, people would not have to disclose the conviction on job applications or other forms. This would eliminate the life-long struggle for people with criminal charges on their record face when applying for jobs, housing and other things.
On Sept. 23, the Senate approved an amended version of the House bill by a 334-34 vote. The House concurred with the amended version by a 98-7 vote. HB4982 now goes to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for her consideration. She has expressed support for the measure.
The proposed law will not only help some people with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their records get a new start, but it will also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
In the past, we’ve seen some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because the new laws generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. The passage of HB4982 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Despite federal prohibition, Michigan legalized marijuana by referendum in 2018. This removes a huger layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Michigan joins a growing number of states increasingly ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019.
With 33 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
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