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Minnesota Inches Closer to Marijuana Legalization

by | Nov 26, 2018 | Criminal Defense, Firm News

Now that the dust has settled after the midterm elections, it’s clear that marijuana legalization proponents won big in the Gopher State. How does that development affect your family, as well as Hutchinson criminal defense attorneys?

In November 2018, the Legalize Marijuana Now Party’s Mike Ford ran for state auditor. He won 5.2 percent of the vote. That showing gives the LMNP major party status in Minnesota. That designation means easier ballot access and more state subsidy funds. Currently, the Gopher State has one of the most limited medical marijuana laws in the country. That status could change soon, and not just because of Mr. Ford’s “win.”

During the campaign, Governor-elect Tim Walz seemed to endorse at least partial recreational legalization. The Democrat said, if he had the power, he would “Regulate, tax Minnesota grown, and then I would go back and expunge those records of the folks we are overcrowding our prisons with for marijuana infractions.” He’s not alone. Earlier in 2018, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey endorsed legal marijuana as a way to reduce opioid overdose deaths. The leader of Minnesota’s largest city said he would like to expand a city ordinance which decriminalized minor marijuana possession matters. Mr. Frey said he would like “to see full legalization. . .at the state level.”

Marijuana Laws in Minnesota

In 2014, Minnesota lawmakers somewhat relaxed the state’s marijuana laws. Possession of under 42.5 grams is punishable by fine only. As a rule of thumb, a gram of marijuana can make about three joints. Possession over 42.5 grams is a serious felony (up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine). A few patients can use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Changing any laws, including marijuana laws, is a cumbersome process in Minnesota. Generally, there is no provision for popular referendums. Instead, a majority in each legislative house must propose a constitutional amendment. With a pro-legalization governor in the state house, that amendment is now closer than ever.

But significant obstacles remain. Law enforcement groups always oppose legalization initiatives. That opposition might be less intense in Minnesota since lawmakers decriminalized many possession cases in 2014. Republicans generally oppose legalization as well.

Defending McLeod County Marijuana Cases

For the foreseeable future, possessing marijuana will still be a crime in Minnesota. Even though small possession carries no possible jail time, it still means a drug conviction on your record. That conviction can make it hard to find a job or even find a place to live. So, Hutchinson criminal defense attorneys fight these cases very aggressively.

Drug possession cases usually begin with traffic stops. Typically, an officer pulls over a vehicle for a minor traffic violation. During the subsequent investigation, the officer either sees drugs in plain view or someone admits that there are drugs in the car. In these situations, officers usually arrest everyone in the car.

But legal possession is more than just proximity to the contraband. In fact, a person could literally be sitting on drugs and not possess them in a legal sense. In addition to proximity, a prosecutor must also establish:

  • Accessibility: The difference between the back seat and the front seat is a good example. In small cars, there may just be a few inches between the back and front seats. But a person in the back usually cannot get to items in the front without getting out of the car or crawling over the seat. In other words, the drugs are not readily accessible.
  • Knowledge: The defendant must also know that there are drugs under the seat, in the glove compartment, or whatever. Without such knowledge, there is no legal possession.

At trial, prosecutors must establish every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. So, Hutchinson criminal defense attorneys can use simple lack of evidence to secure not-guilty verdicts.

McLeod County prosecutors always file the most aggressive charges possible. So, they often look to upgrade possession to trafficking. They look for additional evidence like:

  • Baggies,
  • Scales,
  • Weapons, and
  • Money.

However, to use this evidence, prosecutors must show a connection between the alleged trafficking evidence and the drugs themselves. A handgun in the bedroom may have little or nothing to do with drugs in the living room. Moreover, if officers have a warrant, that warrant usually allows them to search for drugs and not for other things. Officers cannot seize these additional items unless they are in plain view or another exception applies.

How Hutchinson Criminal Defense Attorneys Resolve Marijuana Cases

So, there are a number of effective defenses to drug cases. However, a trial may not be in the defendant’s best interest. Even if a Hutchinson criminal defense attorney has a winning strategy and the prosecutor’s evidence is weak, there is no way to tell for certain what a jury will decide.

Fortunately, most drug prosecutions usually involve a pretrial diversion program. If the defendant pays a fee and completes a few program requirements, like community service or drug education, the prosecutor usually dismisses the charges.

Diversion programs are usually available in possession cases. They may also be available in other types of cases, such as drug-related burglaries, if the defendant had a drug problem and that problem contributed to the offense.

Team Up with Tenacious Lawyers

Minnesota’s marijuana laws are strict, but defendants do have options in these cases. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson criminal defense attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home and jail visits are available.