Social Equity Snafu: Some applicants for cannabis license struggle to prove their past

Social Equity Snafu: Some applicants for cannabis license struggle to prove their past

Social Equity Snafu: Some applicants for cannabis license struggle to prove their past

As thousands of people line up to get a shot at a license to sell or manufacture adult-use cannabis in Minnesota, some are still trying to prove they qualify as social equity applicants.

The verification window opened June 24 for social equity applicants, specifically for people who were harmed by marijuana prohibition. It allows applicants to submit the necessary paperwork that shows, for instance, a previous low-level marijuana offense on their record. 

But part of the state’s new cannabis law automatically expunged those low-level offenses, which means they’re not showing up on typical background checks.

“It’s kind of a disappointment,” said Nathan Philippi, owner of Mr. Nice Guys in St. Cloud.

Philippi says every day customers come in asking when he’s going to sell full-strength, adult-use cannabis. But for now he’s struggling to even put his name in the hat for a license. 

In 2006, Philippi said he was convicted for possession of marijuana — a low-level charge that was recently expunged under the new law.

But he now has to prove it was on his record to qualify as a social equity applicant.

“I started off with the county, and I went to Sherburne County and spoke with someone there to try to get a copy of my record. And they informed me that there is no copy of that because they were ordered under the new cannabis laws to get rid of all those records,” he said.

Philippi then went to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but they sent him back to the county.

“So I kind of ended up where I started, I guess,” he said.

In an interview last week with 5 INVESTIGATES, interim Office of Cannabis Management Director Charlene Briner said they have received questions about the process but insisted the county is the best place to get a copy of the records.

“We’re really interested in working with those applicants,” Briner said. “The vendor that we’re working with will interact and engage with folks and give them direction about where they can go.”

But the clock is ticking for applicants to find the necessary documentation before the verification window closes on July 10.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the State Court Administrator’s Office acknowledged that a new process has been implemented that directs court staff to “provide a defendant their expunged case records on request.”

When asked about when this process started and whether it was communicated to applicants, an OCM spokesman said, “We don’t have any authority over court processes and weren’t directly involved in their internal procedures.”

Philippi plans to try again — for the third time — to track down paperwork to prove his past and, hopefully, one day build a business in the new cannabis industry in Minnesota.

“We’re kind of in limbo now if we’re going to be able to get licensing or not because of this little technical snafu with with the state,” he said.