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Cannabis and Justice: What is the Expungement Process in NM, MN, AZ?

One of the most thrilling developments in the world of cannabis is the rise of the cannabis expungement movement. “Expungement” is nothing more than the sealing of prior criminal records. It is seen as an important and long-overdue step in the effort to redress some of the wrongs incurred by the Nixon-era War on Drugs, a broad anti-drug platform that disproportionately impacted communities of color as well and inequality in the prosecution of drug crimes.

Right now, a number of states—including Arizona, Minnesota, and New Mexico—are putting the expungement of minor cannabis-related crimes at the forefront of the larger justice system reform movement. If you’re a resident of these three states and interested in having a prior conviction expunged, we’d love to share the process with you. Here’s how it works.

Cannabis-Related Record Expungement: Arizona

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The recent passage of Arizona’s Proposition 207, which legalized adult-use cannabis, also included provisions for the expungement of records of their cannabis-related arrest, charge, conviction, adjudication, or sentence. What’s notable about the Arizona statute is that historically, the state only permitted such records to be “set aside,” meaning they were still part of the public record.

By comparison, the new Arizona law allows for true expungement of certain cannabis-related records. This could potentially help you qualify for better housing or student loans, pass a criminal background check by your employer, or improve your child custody status. The qualifying charges include:

  • Consumption of Cannabis: Under the new statute, those who were convicted or charged with possessing, consuming, or transporting 2.5 ounces of cannabis (or 12.5 grams of cannabis concentrate) or fewer are eligible to petition for the expungement of their records.
  • Possession of Cannabis Plants: Those convicted or charged with possessing, transporting, or cultivating no more than six cannabis plants at their primary residence for personal use are eligible to petition for the expungement of their records.
  • Possession of Paraphernalia: Those who were convicted or charged with possessing, using, or transporting paraphernalia relating to the use of cannabis are eligible to petition for the expungement of their records.

The opportunity to petition for expungement formally begins July 12, 2021. At that time, you should be able to access the necessary documents on the Arizona judicial branch website.

Cannabis-Related Record Expungement: Minnesota

Last year, Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler introduced an adult-use cannabis bill that would have included two types of expungement. One would be automatic, which pertains to simple low-level offenses, and the other would create a panel review process.

Unfortunately, the bill didn’t pass, which means that expungements are still processed on an individual basis, and typically require the services of an attorney. You can read more about the intricacies of the process here.

Cannabis-Related Record Expungement: New Mexico

New Mexico is ahead of the curve, having enacted a cannabis-related expungement law in 2019. Just as in Arizona, expunged records are removed from the public record. A person whose record has been expunged can legally answer “no” when asked if they’ve ever been arrested or convicted of the expunged charge.

Although New Mexico’s expungement system isn’t automatic—a process recently invoked by Illinois and other jurisdictions—the process is relatively straightforward and doesn’t necessarily require the services of an attorney. Visit the New Mexico judicial branch website for the proper forms. Those in Bernalillo County can find the appropriate forms here. Once you’ve successfully petitioned for a hearing, you can expect a ruling on the matter within 30 days.