One of the biggest legislative surprises for cannabis reform in 2023 was the recreational legalization of cannabis in Minnesota. On May 30, 2023, House File 100 was signed by Governor Tim Walz, a moderate Democrat who ran very much on a platform of full cannabis legalization during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign. In the last few weeks of the 2023 Minnesota Legislature session, HF100 passed by a 71-59 vote in the House of Representatives and a needle-thin 34-32 margin in the Senate. This close of a contested vote would certainly explain how surprising the full legalization of cannabis in the Land of 10,000 Lakes is. Especially because Minnesota is entirely surrounded by states without any definitive plans in the near future to recreationally legalize cannabis, the state stands out as a beacon of forward-thinking cannabis policy among a sea of draconian prohibition that doesn’t result in any actual tax revenue or job creation.
Although the representative that introduced the bill itself, Rep. Zack Stephenson, even estimated that the thorough process of creating worthwhile and effective cannabis regulation as well as the implementation of the cannabis industry across the state, the state’s government and court systems are moving forward with certain provisions of the bill regardless. One of the most vitally restorative parts of this incredibly reformative bill is Article 5, which is the section that details how Minnesotans living with the many disadvantages of a criminal cannabis conviction may receive proper expungement and a true second chance in life.
For a statewide expungement program, the sponsoring Minnesota lawmakers certainly made sure that the expungement provisions were multi-layered. Throughout multiple sections of the legislation, the lawmakers discuss the possible eligibility and what types of convictions and offenses are initially eligible for expungement. House File 100 provides explicit direction to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to “identify individuals eligible for expungement” and “provide notice to the judicial branch”. From there, the BCA is granted to provide expungement of records kept by the Bureau to those eligible. The BCA is then required to inform law enforcement agencies of the enacted expungements and those agencies must subsequently seal their records.
“Subhead 3 directs the judicial branch to issue an order vacating convictions, dismissing charges, and expunging records for eligible individuals.” the legislation reads. The bill also accurately addresses and remedies the many employment-related issues that those with criminal records due to victimless cannabis charges live with.
“Subhead 3 directs the court to provide a list of expunged cases to the commissioner of human services and the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.”
Arguably the most reformative part of HF100 was the establishment of the Cannabis Expungement Board, a five-member panel that is composed of representatives from the most powerful legal positions in the state of Minnesota. The Expungement Board will consist of “the chief justice of the supreme court or a designee, the attorney general or a designee, one public defender, one commissioner, and one public member.”
A preliminary analysis indicated that an estimated 66,000 criminal records are in fact eligible for automatic expungement under HF100, while an astonishing 230,000 felony records are possibly eligible for expungement by the CEB.
Just law week, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension posted an extensive update into this statewide expungement process.
“We’re meeting regularly with the Minnesota Judicial Branch to identify a process for automating “notifications” and how to isolate non-parking and traffic-related petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors.” the Minnesota BCA explained on their website. “And we’ve gathered a focus group of law enforcement agencies to provide ongoing feedback on the required notifications to law enforcement. Cannabis-related expungements will begin in mid-2024, and we anticipate Clean Slate-related expungements will be implemented to meet the January 2025 deadline.”
Until that time however, the BCA is still taking other actions to attempt to expedite the expungement process that may be lengthy.
“While we continue to work on changes to CHS to make these expungements possible,” the update says, “we have added language to all criminal history records to indicate that a record may contain information about an act that is no longer illegal in Minnesota.”
Luckily for Minnesotans who are eligible for expungement, there’s an entirely separate bill to assist and strengthen the process and possibilities of their likely expungement. Under The Clean Slate Act, also passed and signed by Gov. Walz during the 2023 Legislature Session, would automate the expungement process for certain victimless misdemeanor offenses that are already considered expungement worthy. The legislation is incredibly helpful to those Minnesotans who may not be able to afford the expungement process that may get pricey depending on extenuating circumstances and the expungement application and court fees.
A recent study from Santa Clara University of Minnesota’s court system and pre-Clean Slate expungement process exposed that only around a miniscule five percent of possible applicants for the clearing of their non-violent criminal record actually complete the application process for the expungement. Automating the process of receiving an official expungement from the state would positively impact the thousands of Minnesotans who are eligible for a second chance at life, totally free from the many socioeconomic punishments that result from even a victimless criminal conviction.