ROYAL OAK, Mich. — The battle to legalize marijuana may have swung in favor of marijuana advocates, but the folks behind the moves say plenty more remains to be done.
While legalized pot became lawful for adults in Michigan in early December, people continue to work their way through the court system on charges that pre-dated the change in law. There are also hundreds of people serving probation on low level marijuana charges and even more people who have a criminal record tied to something that is no longer a crime.
Barton Morris, a lawyer and owner of Cannabis Law Group who helped push for legalized recreational marijuana, said the next step is to get criminal records for non-violent offenses expunged.
“We have to do the work to fix what happened in the past,” said Morris. “It’s my main priority. It’s something I’m working on with the new Governor’s office, and the new Attorney General’s office, in order to put something together to make something happen.”
Morris told 7 Action News that there are several routes that could be taken to expunge records, that includes legislative action.
California enacted legislation earlier this year that started an automatic process to potentially reduce, or dismiss, sentences and records for crimes that are no longer illegal under state law. A similar bill in Michigan could potentially remove convictions, but there is no guarantee that action will take place during the current lame duck session in Lansing.
A ballot initiative, similar to what legalized recreational marijuana in Michigan, could be used at a later date; however Morris noted it was an expensive process, and thus unlikely. There is also the possibility that the next Governor uses her pardon powers, but as Morris noted, there are restrictions to the process that include the legislature anyways.
“I’ve spent the last six years of my life fighting this case and it just sucks,” explained Peter Trzos, a former medical doctors who pleaded guilty to felony charges earlier this year in connection with his sale of medical marijuana.
Trzos said he’s been battling to keep paychecks coming in ever since his charges were filed — he took over a medical marijuana facility in Holly before it was raided, and he was charged. Not only did he get charged with a slew of marijuana charges, but weapons charges were tacked on because he owned guns. That led to a plea deal where he pleaded guilty to possession and manufacturing charges to avoid additional charges.
He can no longer hold a medical license because of the charges, and background checks have made it hard to find work — Trzos noted that he was even turned down to be a Lyft driver because the charges are connected to his driving record. Still in his 30s, he said it’ll be a long road to get back to normalcy, and while others are now primed to cash in on the recreational marijuana industry he’s paying the price for being among the first to pave the way.
“It sucks because even if they expunge these charges it doesn’t make your life right,” said Trzos. “You still may have spent years in prison, or years in court. You don’t have the employment history you should. I’ve been in purgatory for six years, and some people have been in prison — but at least it’s a step forward.”
Trzos is an extreme example of how charges can effect your life. Others are facing low-level misdemeanor charges that are preventing them from finding jobs, and some are still waiting to figure out their future.
Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Kym Worthy’s office noted that they have to follow the law regarding prosecution of marijuana cases. The law isn’t retroactive, so while smaller marijuana cases typically find their way to city attorneys the prosecutor’s office is still finding citations from the Michigan State Police that are pending review.
“Although the law is not retroactive, in the coming weeks we will assess the tickets that have already been charged, as well as those pending review, taking the new law into consideration,” said Worthy via e-mail.