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‘A long time coming’ | expunged Grand Rapids dispensary owner praises Biden’s pardon against federal marijuana convictions

A man who once found himself convicted on felony charges in the early 2000s reflects on President Biden’s pardoning of simple marijuana possessions for the country.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Though he’s now running a cannabis dispensary that’s been recognized for their social equity program, Pharmhouse Wellness founder Casey Kornoelje still recalls the challenges he faced when he was convicted on marijuana charges in 2004 and 2005.

“Myself personally, having gone through that experience a decent amount of labor discrimination, housing discrimination and education discrimination,” he said. “I can say firsthand that it is something that can be a barrier to folks is life and to various opportunities that come along the way.”

His early-2000 charges were expunged in 2009, he said. Though he had a humble beginning when he first started growing cannabis plants in his parents’ basement, his past convictions, though gone, are ironic to him as a business owner.

“These dates back almost 20 years now,” Kornoelje said. “Fast-forward 20 years, and here we are doing exactly that possessing, manufacturing and delivering cannabis. So, the times have changed quite a bit.”

And fast forward 20 years, and here we are doing exactly that possessing, manufacturing and delivering

Though the state of Michigan has largely decriminalized marijuana, Kornoelje still sees Biden’s announcement as a big deal for others across the state.

“I believe it's a mark on folks his record and to be able to set this aside and clear the path for them,” he said. “That's a wonderful step of progress.”

13 On Your Side reached out to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office concerning Biden’s announcement Thursday.

“As a former prosecutor, Governor Whitmer has been working to deliver the resources that law enforcement needs to stay focused on fighting gun crime and going after violent criminals. This is our top priority,” said Communications Director Bobby Leddy in a statement. “When it comes to marijuana, the people of Michigan have already taken action on this issue at the ballot box in 2008 and again in 2018.

“Earlier in the governor’s term, she signed bipartisan Clean Slate legislation to create a process for people convicted of misdemeanors, including marijuana offenses, to apply for streamlined expungement. This law is one of the most expansive pieces of expungement legislation in the nation. It allows first time marijuana offenses to be expunged manually, and a process for automatic expungement for non-violent offenses will go into effect next April. We will continue to work with anyone who’s serious about solving problems and keeping our communities safe.”

The state of Michigan offers expungement resources online and can be found here. Similarly, Kent County offers a guide to navigate the expungement process that is also online.

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