Minnesota will soon remove the lower-level marijuana convictions after the legalization of medical marijuana. It will be the 23rd state to do so, and the process of this criminal justice has already begun.
In a significant stride towards cannabis reform, the state House and Senate have given their respective approvals to distinct versions of a pivotal bill during the previous week. The focal point now rests on achieving a harmonious consensus to consolidate these versions into a unified bill.
A pivotal aspect underscoring this legislative initiative is its implications for individuals burdened with marijuana-related offenses on their records. Under the proposed legislation, Minnesota’s lawmakers are devising methods to assist individuals in expunging their past marijuana-related transgressions.
This legal process, known as ‘expungement’ or record sealing, doesn’t equate to the obliteration of records. It eliminates them from public visibility and excludes them from comprehensive background screenings.
A significant precedent of this criminal justice was set in 2015 by enacting the ‘Second Chance Act,’ extending Minnesotans the right to petition for expungement encompassing an array of records.
This process, characterized by its intricacies and challenges, marked a considerable hurdle. In the context of the recreational marijuana law, provisions concerning expungement are poised to be seamlessly integrated into the existing legal framework.
The overarching goal is to streamline the procedure for sealing marijuana-related offenses, facilitating a more straightforward and accessible pathway.
Criminal Justice Through Expungement
In criminal justice reform, expungement emerges as a practice deeply rooted in social equity. The enduring consequences of criminal records can cast shadows over individuals for a lifetime. The repercussions are multifaceted, with records imposing substantial hindrances on employment opportunities, housing prospects, etc.
Surprisingly, it remains within the bounds of legality for landlords and employers to dismiss applications solely due to past marijuana-related records, even in cases where arrests never culminated in charges or charges were ultimately dropped.
Expungement emerges as a vital gesture aiming to rectify historical injustices. While certain Republican voices have opposed the broader concept of legalizing recreational marijuana, the aspect of expungement within the bill has garnered comparatively fewer concerns.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) takes the lead in implementing automatic expungement.
BCA’s role involves identifying eligible candidates, granting expungements, and informing the judicial branch within a 60-day window. This action triggers record sealing and prompts related law enforcement agencies to follow suit. However, challenges persist due to disjointed criminal record databases in various states. This criminal justice process can be intricate and time-consuming.
The BCA’s method for prioritizing expungements and whether they’ll occur simultaneously or gradually remain uncertain. Governmental accountability is crucial, according to defense attorney Jon Geffen, to ensure transparency and efficiency.
Notably, timelines differ between the Minnesota House and Senate versions of the bill, with the House initiating on August 1 and the Senate considering a start in January 2025.
Handling Felony Marijuana Records within the Legalization Criminal Justice Framework
The legalization bill in Minnesota doesn’t automatically expunge felony marijuana records. Instead, a newly established Cannabis Expungement Board will convene monthly to assess these records. Eligibility for expungement, reduced sentences, vacated convictions, or dropped charges will be reviewed, with the requirement that the felonies pertain to possession and be nonviolent.
Additionally, the board will deliberate on restoring an individual’s firearm possession rights if deemed appropriate. While these board meetings will be open to the public, the person’s identity will be kept confidential. The proposed criminal justice legislation mandates the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to identify eligible felony marijuana records and share them with the Cannabis Expungement Board.
Records deemed fit for resentencing or expungement by the Cannabis Expungement Board will be forwarded to the state’s judicial branch. Subsequently, the judicial branch will issue orders to seal the records or proceed with resentencing. Completion of this process is stipulated by the bill to be accomplished by June 30, 2028.
As of the latest update, it remains unclear whether individuals who acquired criminal records before age 21 will be eligible for expungement.
Eligibility for Expungement
The state’s central repository for criminal data, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), serves as the reference point. However, it’s important to note that the agency can only account for records within its possession.
For misdemeanor marijuana records, approximately 66,000 individuals are deemed eligible for automatic expungement, encompassing various scenarios like arrests, dropped charges, and cases that ended in dismissal or victory. Among these, around 9,818 individuals possess actual convictions.
On the felony front, an estimated 230,000 records related to marijuana offenses are primed for evaluation. Within this subset, 83,909 convictions have been recorded, according to BCA estimates.
Informing People About Expungement
Regarding records that undergo automatic expungement, the bill outlines that the BCA will make diligent efforts to notify eligible individuals about the impending sealing of their records. This notification process is directed toward the judicial branch. However, in the context of felonies, the responsibility shifts to the Cannabis Expungement Board.
In both instances, a letter from the court administrator will be dispatched to the individual’s last known address. Accordingly, this correspondence will detail the agencies and jurisdictions to which the expungement order was transmitted. This includes entities like law enforcement or other courts, ensuring individuals are informed about the status of their records.
Permissible Cannabis Products Under This Criminal Justice Act
Under the new law, a range of cannabis products will be legally authorized for production and retail sale. These include marijuana flowers, concentrates, topicals, and edible products like candies and beverages.
The law also sanctions the sale of immature cannabis plants, seeds, and products derived from THC found in hemp.
People aged 21 and above can consume marijuana in specific settings. These include private residences or private yards, provided the property is not accessible to the public and is allowed by the property owner. Consumption on the premises of businesses or events licensed for on-site usage will also be allowed.
However, there will be restrictions. Smoking or vaporizing cannabis will be prohibited in multifamily housing buildings starting in 2025, except for registered medical cannabis patients.
Smoking outdoors will generally be permitted where not prohibited by the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act. Starting August 1, individuals can smoke in parks, sidewalks, and outside restaurants or bars, unless local ordinances prohibit it. These regulations indicate a careful balance between personal usage rights and the consideration of public spaces and health concerns.