Drug crime expungement fair set as more people eligible

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Black and Brown Cannabis Guild will host its third annual expungement fair this weekend.

The event will run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services building on Franklin Street SE and Jefferson Avenue. The event, which is free, helps people with prior drug convictions clear their records.

“We have more than 20 practicing attorneys working tomorrow pro bono,” Denavvia Mojet with the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild said. “All of the people who registered on our website, we’ve purchased their background checks and started screening them under the new law.”

The event is in partnership with Fluresh Cannabis Provisioning Center and the NAACP of Greater Grand Rapids. It will be drive-up style due to the pandemic. Everyone seeking services needed to register in advance.

Mojet said that because of the Clean Slate Act, which took effect in Michigan on April 11, they’re expecting an influx of people in need of services.

“We estimate over a million people, a million Michiganders, are currently eligible to have a conviction removed from their record,” Mojet said.

The Clean Slate Act, signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October, expands the pool of people eligible for expungement.

“Up to this point, essentially, any person who had more than one felony conviction on his or her record could never seek to have any of their convictions expunged. If you had more than two misdemeanors on your record, you could never seek to have any of your convictions set aside,” attorney Sarissa Montague with Levine and Levine Attorneys at Law in Kalamazoo explained.

Montague said those convictions prevent people from securing housing and getting jobs.

“If a company is looking to hire and someone has been convicted of a crime and somebody hasn’t, I think very often they went with the person who hadn’t (been convicted of a crime) and that was a problem,” Montague added.

She said one thing that made the prior expungement criteria unfair is prosecutorial discretion. She said two people from two different counties could commit the same crime and walk away with a different number of charges based on the way the prosecutor in their county decided to charge them.

Statistics show that people of color are disproportionately impacted by drug convictions.

”Given that legalization felt to most Michiganders like the flip of a switch, knowing everyone who had these marijuana convictions had to wait years to see that reversed felt a little bit unfair,” Mojet said.

The new law and events like the expungement fair give people a way out, advocates say.

The state is working to make the process of expungement automatic for some offenses but says that is not expected until April 2023 at the earliest.

Registration for Saturday’s drive-up event has already closed but the Black and Brown Cannabis Guild says it will be hosting another clinic soon. To receive updates on its upcoming events, sign up for the email list.