Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Minnesota may soon become the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana

Minnesota may soon become the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana. The state House and Senate both approved different versions of the bill last week. If they can reach agreement on a singular bill, it'll head next to Gov. Tim Walz, who has already shared his support, reported MPR.

A key part of this legislation is how it would affect people with marijuana records whose crimes would no longer be considered crimes. Like in other states that have already fully legalized weed, Minnesota lawmakers are proposing ways for people to get marijuana offenses cleared.

This process is called expungement, or sealing records. Expunged records aren’t destroyed, but they’re removed from the public view and won’t appear in background checks.

A statute passed in 2015 known as the “Second Chance Act” gave Minnesotans the ability to petition for expungement for records of all kinds – a lengthy and often difficult process. What’s written in the recreational marijuana bill related to expungement would be added to the current law, with the intention to make sealing marijuana records a simpler process. 

Why are states including expungement as part of marijuana legislation?

Expungement in these cases is a practice of social equity. Criminal records can follow people for a lifetime.

Among many potential consequences, a record can cost people jobs, housing and more. It’s legal for landlords and employers to reject applications due to marijuana records, even when arrests didn’t lead to charges or charges were dropped. 

“If you got arrested for felony drug possession, and it turns out that it was Alka Seltzer and they drop charges, there’s still a record of it. It’s still public,” said defense attorney Jon Geffen, the law firm director at the Legal Revolution, a nonprofit law firm that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people with legal barriers. 

Since the 1970s, getting caught with a small amount of pot in Minnesota has been a petty misdemeanor, which is defined as “not a crime” by law, similar to a parking ticket, said Geffern.

“But if I run a background check on somebody, I make a judgment about them based on a petty misdemeanor.”

Record clearing is also a matter of racial justice. 

Black Minnesotans have been 5.4 times more likely than white Minnesotans to be arrested for marijuana possession, though usage between populations is about the same, the American Civil Liberties Union found in 2020.

“When you overpolice and overcharge [people of color], you’re going to see that disparate impact all the way through. You see it financially, causing generational problems. It even breaks up families. Let’s say dad’s got something on his record. He can’t get into the same housing, so he can’t live there,” Geffern said.

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