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Changes in Michigan drug laws bring old convictions into doubt

It is impossible to deny that the tide of national sentiment towards marijuana is changing. Several states have loosened restrictions on the psychoactive plant for medicinal and recreational use. Michigan is one of the states that is reassessing its legal approach to the drug, looking forward as well as looking back.

Changes in laws to allow medical or free-use marijuana will change how law enforcement agencies pursue and prosecute users and sellers of the drug. But another concern is the people who were already charged and convicted with marijuana-related crimes that are now changing in the books or being stricken altogether.

The governor in Lansing is already investigating ways to expunge the convictions of people charged with crimes involving marijuana in Michigan. The state's attorney general has also used her discretion to dismiss or reduce several pending charges against marijuana users and sellers.

Several advocates say this is simply the beginning, as thousands of Michiganders of color are in prison or weighted with convictions that would not happen now. A study showed Americans of African origin are more than three times as likely as white people to be arrested for possession of marijuana, while there is little difference between rates of use between races. Several possibilities exist, but they must start with the reversal of charges and convictions.

People charged with drug crimes recently or in the past may always defend themselves and have the right to counsel at all parts of their interactions with law enforcement and courts. Legal representation is more than a right; it is often an essential part of a successful criminal defense.

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