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Lawmakers Begin Marijuana Legalization Debate

by | Feb 6, 2019 | Criminal Defense, Firm News

Several new House bills would legalize weed, and also expunge drug possession records. While these measures enjoy broad support in the House and new Gov. Tim Walz has indicated he would sign such a bill, legalization still needs to make it past the Senate. Lots of luck with that.

Most of these proposals would not only legalize marijuana possession but also expunge prior criminal records. Marijuana legalization statistics are decidedly mixed. In places where pot is legal, teen marijuana use has declined and so have violent crime rates. But car crash rates have increased and some marijuana-linked psychotropic illnesses, such as schizophrenia and anxiety, have increased as well.

Based on this record, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he would oppose these measures if they cleared the House. “I am open to having a hearing and work through the process, but the more data I find, personally, the more I’m opposed to it,” he remarked.

Marijuana Laws in Minnesota

Legally, the Gopher State basically has a marijuana cliff. In Wright County, a dozen joints is pretty much the cutoff between a slap on the wrist and a very serious felony.

Possession of under 42.5 grams, which is about twelve to fourteen joints, is a petty misdemeanor. There is no possible jail time, which means no probation or court supervision. The maximum punishment is a $200 fine and a drug education course. Possession over 42.5 grams is a felony (maximum five years in prison and $5,000 fine). So, one joint or dime bag makes a big difference.

Put another way, if an officer sees you smoking a joint on a street corner, it is most likely a traffic ticket. But if officers find your stash or break up your party, you need a really good Buffalo criminal defense lawyer.

To reach the stash or break up the party, under the Constitution, officers need search warrants. But since warrants generally involve substantial investments of time and money (confidential informants usually do not work for free), officers rarely obtain them in marijuana cases, unless they want to dismantle a large distribution ring.

However, there are some search warrant exceptions. Some common exceptions which Buffalo criminal defense lawyers deal with in marijuana cases include:

  • Exigent Circumstances: Officers often use this exception to gain access to a property without a warrant. If officers believe that there is an emergency on the premises, they may go inside and make sure that everyone is okay. So, if two guys scuffle at a party and a neighbor reports a “disturbance,” rest assured that Buffalo police officers will bust down the door.
  • Consent: A house or property owner may allow officers to “have a look around.” Even if the consenting party lacked authority, such as a roommate whose name is not on the lease, the subsequent search and seizure may still be valid.
  • Plain View: Once they are in a house or pull over a car, officers may seize any contraband they see in plain view. If they smell marijuana, they usually look a bit more closely. Since they have probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion, most Wright County judges allow the heightened plain view search.

If officers did not have a warrant and a Buffalo criminal defense lawyer proves the exception does not apply, the judge may throw out the case. And, even if the prosecutor refiles charges and starts over, the same procedural defect remains.

Can a Buffalo Criminal Defense Lawyer Beat These Charges?

Absolutely. In possession cases, officers normally arrest everyone in at the party or everyone in the car if they find any weed. But in this context, “proximity” is not the same thing as “possession.” In addition to proximity, a Wright County prosecutor must also establish:

  • Knowledge: The defendant must know that there was marijuana in the car or at the party. So, a defendant could literally be sitting on a dime bag and not possess it in a legal sense. General knowledge that “something illegal is in the glovebox” is insufficient.
  • Control: Moreover, the defendant must have actual or potential control over the drugs. People in the back seat usually cannot possess something in the front seat, especially if the car is packed with people. Similarly, if someone is smoking marijuana outside, people in the living room cannot possess it.

Another defense involves the type of marijuana seized. The drugs must be a useable quantity of marijuana. Burnt residue usually does not count. This defense is important in borderline petty misdemeanor/serious felony cases.

Sentencing Alternatives

If the defendant has a decent defense, a Buffalo criminal defense lawyer can often engineer a favorable plea bargain agreement. Almost all criminal cases, upwards of 95 percent by most counts, settle out of court in this way.

In a misdemeanor, prosecutors normally offer pretrial diversion. If the defendant pays a small fee, completes a class, and jumps through a few other hoops, prosecutors normally dismiss the case. The arrest record remains, but a marijuana arrest is a lot less damaging than a marijuana conviction.

In a felony, deferred adjudication may be available. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the prosecutor dismisses the charges. This procedure has some significant cons as well, so discuss your options carefully with a Buffalo criminal defense lawyer.

Connect with Experienced Attorneys

Marijuana is still illegal in Minnesota, and it looks like it may stay that way for awhile. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo criminal defense lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.