Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Crime and punishment, revised edition


A survey of Minnesota’s most important criminal law changes of 2023

By Elizabeth A. Orrick


The 2023 legislative session was busy, with a record-breaking number of bills. In the end, 75 new chapters of law were adopted. In the criminal sector, numerous laws were added, existing laws modified, and some laws repealed. This article aims to highlight some of the more important changes affecting the rights of citizens throughout the state.

Cannabis laws

Some of the biggest updates to criminal law last year resulted from Minnesota’s becoming the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana. The final bill, HF100, came to 321 pages and legalized possession and use of marijuana for Minnesotans over 21 years old. (For a more comprehensive account of the law’s provisions, see “From 0 to HF100: Legal cannabis comes to Minnesota,” September 2023.) The law allows Minnesotans to possess or transport up to two ounces of cannabis flower in a public place, up to eight grams of THC concentrate, and edible cannabis products infused with up to 800 milligrams of THC. Possession and transportation of marijuana are now permitted in a motor vehicle, though the product must be either in its sealed container or package or in an area not normally occupied by the driver or passengers. Using or possessing cannabis products is still prohibited in schools, state correctional facilities, on federal property, or in a location where the product smoke or vapor could be inhaled by a minor. It is also worth noting that if an individual is caught with a greater amount of cannabis products than allowed by law, they could face up to felony-level charges. 

Cultivating marijuana is also now legal, meaning Minnesotans can break out their gardening gloves and grow up to eight cannabis plants in their residence, with no more than four being mature plants at one time. Residents may keep up to two pounds of cannabis flower in their homes. Although cannabis plants may be grown indoors or outdoors, there are restrictions on visibility and accessibility of the plants. An individual may face a felony-level charge if they are caught cultivating more than 23 cannabis plants or a gross-misdemeanor charge if they are found cultivating between 16 and 23 cannabis plants. The law is silent, however, when it comes to charging levels for individuals found cultivating nine to 15 plants. 

Significant changes were also made in the realm of expungements. The Adult-Use Cannabis Act mandates automatic expungements of low-level cannabis convictions. The onus is on the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to locate eligible cases and notify parties. According to the BCA, it is estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Minnesotans will be eligible for automatic expungement of their cannabis convictions.1 The law also created a Cannabis Expungement Board to review felony-level cannabis convictions for expungement eligibility or resentencing. Unlike the traditional expungement process, the Cannabis Expungement Board presumes that a felony cannabis conviction expungement is in the public interest “unless there is clear and convincing evidence that an expungement or resentencing to a lesser offense would create a risk to public safety.” In analyzing risk to public safety, the board considers whether the conviction involved the use of a weapon or assaultive behavior. 

Drug paraphernalia

By repealing Minnesota Statute section 152.092, Minnesota became the first state to fully legalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, including hypodermic syringes and needles. It is also no longer illegal to possess paraphernalia that has residual amounts of one or more controlled substances in it under Minnesota statute section 152.025. In other words, any type of drug residue in paraphernalia cannot be used as a basis to bring a controlled substance charge. What is a “residual amount,” you ask? Well, that remains to be defined. 

Catalytic converter theft

To stem the rise in thefts of catalytic converters, the Minnesota Legislature added restrictions on the purchase or acquisition of the devices. It is now illegal for an individual who is not a registered scrap metal dealer to possess a catalytic converter that is not attached to a motor vehicle and is not certified for reuse as a replacement part. It is also “unlawful for a scrap metal dealer to purchase or acquire a used catalytic converter not attached to a motor vehicle” unless the seller can provide title or registration to prove ownership.2 The penalties for violating the law range from a misdemeanor for one catalytic convertor to a 20-year felony for 70-plus catalytic convertors. In addition to the statutory changes, the Commissioner of Public Safety was given $600,000 to ensure compliance for 2024 and 2025. 


Following an increase in carjacking offenses statewide, the Minnesota Legislature decided to make “carjacking” a more clearly defined crime with stiff penalties attached. Until this year, the crime of carjacking did not technically exist but was instead charged in conjunction with Minnesota robbery laws. Under the new law, a third-degree carjacking offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years while a felony first-degree offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, on a par with aggravated robbery and third-degree murder. 

Organized retail theft 

Noticing a rise in organized smash-and-grab retail thefts, lawmakers made organized retail theft its own crime—with stiff penalties. In contrast to standard shoplifting charges, organized retail theft focuses on a person’s intent to resell stolen goods rather than to keep them for personal use. Organized retail theft will typically involve an underlying criminal enterprise employing groups of individuals to steal large quantities of merchandise for subsequent sale via online auction or to other retailers. According to a report from the National Retail Federation, incidents of organized retail theft contributed to a $94.5 billion loss in 2021 (though the organization subsequently retracted its initial claim that organized theft accounted for “nearly half” that figure).3

The level of charges a person could face depends on the value of property stolen. For example, if the stolen property is valued at more than $5,000, individuals involved face a possible 15-year felony sentence. 

“Peeping Tom” laws

Following the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in State v. McReynolds,4 wherein the court determined that a man who used his cellphone to record a woman without her consent could not be convicted under the language in Minnesota’s “Peeping Tom” statute, the Minnesota Legislature moved to close a loophole in the law. Under the previous law, a person only violated the statute if they gazed upon someone or recorded images “through the window or any other aperture” of a house or dwelling. The revised law now criminalizes the recording or broadcasting of images of another without consent wherever a person would have an expectation of privacy. 

Aiding and abetting felony murder 

Under previous Minnesota murder laws, a person could be convicted of murder even if they did not intend for anyone to die but were somehow indirectly connected to the crime. For example, a person could be charged with aiding and abetting felony murder if they were unknowingly sitting in the getaway car during the commission of a felony-level crime. Lawmakers realized the potential for unjust sentences for such individuals and reframed the law to focus on intent. The bill, HF1406, now limits the charge of felony murder to individuals who commit murder or directly aid and abet murder “with intent to cause the death of a human being.”5

The new law is retroactive, meaning that people who had been convicted under the old law are immediately eligible for resentencing and could get credit for time served and be released from prison. 

No-knock warrants

No-knock warrants that allow police to enter premises without first loudly and clearly announcing their presence have been hotly debated for years. As of July 2023, a court cannot issue a no-knock warrant unless the court determines that there is probable cause to believe that “the search cannot be executed while the premises is unoccupied” and that “the occupant or occupants in the premises present an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers executing the warrant or other persons.”6 These requirements are significantly stricter than the prior rule, which allowed a court to approve a no-knock warrant when police could demonstrate that they would be unable to detain a suspect without such a warrant. 

Probation reduction and prisoner rehabilitation

The Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act (MRRA) provides a path for early release for many inmates. It requires the Minnesota Department of Corrections to develop a rehabilitation plan for every inmate with at least one year of their sentence left to serve. Such plans might, for instance, include recommendations for substance abuse treatment programs, medical and mental health services, or vocational and educational aid, among other rehabilitative programs. The MRRA also allows for the reduction of a criminal sentence for individuals who make progress toward rehabilitation. 

The Department of Corrections has stated that it will take time before the MRRA changes take effect and are fully implemented. When that will happen and how its progress will be monitored remains to be seen. 

Elizabeth Orrick is an associate attorney at Brandt Kettwick Defense, where she represents clients facing criminal charges from misdemeanors to felonies. She graduated from Mitchell Hamline School of Law in 2021 and clerked at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. 



1 BCA Prepares to Implement Clean Slate, Adult-Use Cannabis Expungements, Department of Pub. Safety Blog,

2 Minn. Stat. §325E21, subd. 13. 

3 “National Retail Federation retracts stats after theft war of words,” Forbes 12/8/2023

4 973 N.W.2d 314 (Minn. 2022).

5 Minn. Stat. §609.05, subd. 2a.

6 Minn. Stat. §626.14, subd. 3. 



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