Self-defense: Dominance, Escalation and Deception

Whether you think little or a lot about self-defense, you can live a better life when you consider self-defense from two perspectives: the practical and the legal.  The different schools of self-defense training agree on many things.  Similarly, the law of self-defense agrees in many ways across jurisdictions, cultures, even history.   And though practical self-defense training (how to do it) and the law of self-defense seem to be quite different perspectives, they share much in common.

Whether a legal defense of self-defense is accepted will depend partly upon what people believe the defendant’s situation was at the time – a totality of the circumstances.  Inevitably jurors, judges, all of us will compare what we believe the person being judged did, with what we imagine we would have done in those hypothetical circumstances.

“Better judged by twelve than carried by six.”

A wise aphorism in the lore of self-defense is “better judged by twelve than carried by six.”  The person required to use force in self-defense faces a two-fold threat: first surviving the physical attack; and second surviving the potential legal threat of being wrongly accused of a crime.

Dominance, Escalation and Deception

Some physical attacks are part of a robbery, a rape, a riot, or planned.  Putting those to one side for now, let’s look at the other sort – attacks that spontaneously rise from anger, conflict or a sense of having been treated disrespectfully by someone.  What are some strategies and tactics that can be used to both good practical and legal effect?

The Social Reality

Humans are social animals.  We have always lived in groups, each with our roles within the group.  Like other social animals, we have orders of social dominance, and individual competitions for dominance ranking.  These can be in part based on coercion (such as laws and law enforcement) as well as the actual use of force – lawful and unlawful.  Generally we are unaware of our social dominance orders and roles.

But when it comes to self-defense, awareness can be a powerful tool to help us avoid trouble – to avoid both physical attacks as well as legal attacks.

A person may present to you their subjective belief that you have treated them unjustly or wronged them in some way.  How can you use dominance, escalation and deception to avoid trouble?

call-of-the-wild-image-excerptWhen animals compete for social dominance, they often will display an escalation of threatening physical posturing, sometimes followed by an attack and fight.  They know what they are competing for – social dominance, a recognition by the other of their superior position.  If at some point one of the competitors backs down and shows surrender, this submission will cause the winner to cease the attack.  The dominant animal will not normally hurt the submitting one.  One great story about this in literature is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.

Your humility may not be as deep and sincere as you might like – but you can use some tactical deception and adopt an attitude of humility.  If backing down helps avoid a conflict, you win.  You can’t stop someone from baiting you.  But you can refuse to take the bait.

Though humans can’t necessarily be trusted to stop attacking a person who is clearly not competing for dominance, it is a strategy that may work in some situations.  If the conflict is about the person’s perception of honor, justice, having been wronged – it doesn’t matter if they are justified – this may be a situation where conceding dominance, and de-escalation of conflict tactics may resolve the situation enough so that you can leave the situation, and move on.

Asserting dominance, escalation of conflict, can be just the thing

When a person or group threatens attack or attacks as part of a plan, like robbery or rape; conceding dominance and de-escalation of conflict tactics are unlikely to work.  In these situations, the aggressor is a predator with a goal, acting with rational purpose not just emotion.  Here, asserting dominance authoritatively, escalation of threat displays and the use of force may be best.  Why?  Predatory behavior seeks an easy target.  To ward off predators, be a hard target.  Show strength, confidence, and dominance.  Lead the escalation of conflict.  To the extent that the predator is primarily opportunistic, they may be deterred. Where not discouraged, the predator may be effectively disabled by force.

Evade, Escape, Engage.

Where practical, it’s best to avoid a potential physical concentration.  No one wins a fight, when everyone gets hurt.  This could mean crossing the street, walking the other way, driving away – any way out of there, away from the threat.  Sometimes it’s not a reasonable option to retreat – for example if the threat is already close and would simply attack you from behind if you turned and ran.  But in unarmed combat especially, creating some distance can increase safety.  Even when the attacker is armed, creating distance can sometimes reduce risk of harm.

In many traditional martial arts disciplines, for example Wing Tzun, a general rule is that we do not initiate an attack.  This idea, dating back hundreds – perhaps thousands of years, is not based on any legal considerations.  It’s a fighting tactic to either avoid a fight by not initiating; or forcing the opponent to physically commit to an action that can then be exploited with various combative counter-techniques.  This practice of not initiating a fight will also be helpful in the event of legal trouble, and the assertion of a legal defense of self-defense.

Before and once an attack is underway, we assess the threat and seek to bring a proportionate, reasonable response.  We don’t want to respond disproportionately, but the perfect is the enemy of the good.  Too little force to mount an effective defense could result in serious injury or death for ourselves or loved ones.  Too much could lead to legal trouble.  Those who judge us from outside the situation have the stress-free benefit of hindsight.  The arm-chair quarterbacks often think they could’ve done better, even though they weren’t there.

Stop the Threat

Once force is used, when should it stop?  Self-defense systems generally teach that you should use necessary force until the threat is no longer a threat.  Contrary to the impression in many films and television shows, the self-defender does not seek to hurt or to kill, but rather to disable the attacker or attackers – to stop the threat.  If an attacker is hurt or killed that is a consequence of the goal of self-defense – to simply stop the threat.  Once the attacker is disabled from continuing the attack, the use of force against them should stop.

After the use of force in defense of self or another

Once you have confirmed that the threat has been stopped or disabled, if it is safe to do so (being aware of third parties and weapons), it’s a good idea to render First Aid or whatever assistance can be rendered to the now disabled attacker, and contact the police if possible.  We’ll look at how to handle police contacts in the future (what to do, what to say and when).  But what you do, and knowing what to do, before police contact stemming from the use of force in self-defense is far more important.  Prepare yourself by learning and training in self-defense – not only for your sake but for the sake of your family, co-workers, and those around you.

Thomas Gallagher is a Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer whose practice includes asserting the defense of self-defense and defense of others on behalf of clients.

Comments are welcome below.

Self-defense and The Other

Self-defense is a legal defense to certain criminal charges in Minnesota.  The types of crimes alleged where a defense of self-defense might be asserted include: assault, murder, disorderly conduct and others.

It is not a bright-line sort of law.  If there were, the law would be easier to apply but justice and fairness would be sacrificed.  Instead, the law asks the finder-of-fact (the jury in the case of a jury trial) to look at the totality of circumstances to determine whether the accused person acted in self-defense.  A totality-of-the-circumstances test is more difficult to apply than a bright-line test, but can be more fair, more just.  Inevitably however, when a person judges another and their past choices under a totality-of-the-circumstances test (as with self-defense), that person must use their discretion; and in doing so will apply their own life experiences, biases, and point of view.

Who is The Other?

gran-torino-poster     Early in the popular Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, the character Walt Kowalski leads a lonely existence but takes great pride in his lawn.  When gangbangers arrive to kidnap the young man next door, character Thao Vang Lor, causing a scuffle on his lawn, Walt appears with a rifle to defend the kid and his Hmong family, warning the gang members: “get off my lawn!”  Putting aside the application of self-defense law in this scenario, it is clear – in part by his use of racial slurs – that he views the kid he is defending and the kid’s family next door as The Other.

But by the end of the film, protagonist Walt Kowalski is fully connected with young Thao, who is like a son to him, and Thao’s family and Hmong culture.  Thao is no longer The Other, nor is his family or the Hmong culture.  Walt identifies with them completely.  This is one of the story arcs of the film, the movement from The Other to One of Us.

What difference does it make?

Whether we view another as The Other, or as One of Us, makes all the difference.  If another person is One of Us, then we are naturally empathetic.  We see each situation through their eyes, from their point-of-view.  But if someone is The Other, that means they are not like us, and we are naturally suspicious of their motives and behavior.

This may be hard-wired into our nature as humans.  Throughout human existence, until relatively recently, humans lived in small groups of ten to fifty people.  Each member of the group needed to help and be helped by other group members to survive.  But a person from outside the group was best viewed suspiciously, as a threat, at least until some reason came to light to assure otherwise.

You start out as The Other.

Imagine this scenario:  You have just left a bar downtown at closing time.  A few dozen people are standing around in the warm summer night chatting in small groups, before leaving for their next destination.  You are facing east, and notice three young men walking down the street towards the crowd that fills most of the sidewalk.  Suddenly you see one of the young men pull back his arm, form a fist, and strike a heavy blow into the side of the head of a man ten feet in front of you.  The man doesn’t see it coming, and is knocked to the ground.  Your jaw slackens in shock.  The man who was hit is on the ground, shaking it off, trying to comprehend what just happened.  The lone attacker squares off and goes after the man again, as he regains his feet.

The victim of the attack tries to defend himself, blocking and striking back with fists.   Then, you see other people in the crowd turning to look to see what the fuss is about.  They back away, to form a circle around the pair.  You overhear several people in different groups say: “why are those two guys fighting?” and “What the hell is wrong with them!”

Now, instead of being the bystander-witness, imagine you are the person who was attacked.  But 95% of the witnesses in the crowd did not see how it began or why.  They turned and noticed after that, to see “two guys fighting” – The Other.

Point-of-View matters.

Minnesota’s general self-defense statute is Section 609.06.  It includes the language “reasonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other’s consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist: (3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person… .”

Two phrases in the quoted language are especially important: “reasonable force” and “circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist.”

Whenever we see the word “reasonable” in the law, we have a totality-of-circumstances test, not a bright-line test.  All real crimes require proof of the element of criminal intent of the actor (the accused person).  This requires the fact-finder (the jury in the case of a jury trial) to evaluate the evidence from the point-of-view of the accused, not the point-of-view of anyone else, even a person claiming to be a victim of crime.  The statute emphasizes this point by saying the fact-finder must consider the circumstances that the actor (accused person) reasonably believed to exist at the time.  The law is curative – meaning that the law tries to fix a recognized bias endemic to our culture.  If that bias did not exist, we would not need legal language attempting to remedy it.

From this we can see some of the basic types of factors that are included in the totality-of-circumstances for self-defense:

  1. Was the force used reasonable?
  2. Was the force used reasonable under either the circumstances that actually existed, or the circumstances that the actor (defendant) reasonably believed existed?
  3. Was the force used proportionate to the circumstances, whether actual or reasonably believed to exist?

The reality is that when people in our culture see two people fighting they’ll generally view them both as The Other, with suspicion.  Similarly, when people hear about or think about people fighting they will tend to presume that the people are both guilty of something wrong.  This – despite their personal experience that many altercations involve an aggressor attacking or creating a fight with an unwilling, eventual participant, forced to defend herself.

This cultural bias has manifested itself in the form of the current Duty to Retreat in Minnesota.  In certain cases, the prosecuting attorney can try to reverse the burden of proof by forcing the accused person to show evidence that she met “the duty to retreat” prior to being entitled to a legal defense of self-defense.  The Duty to Retreat jury instruction gives the prosecuting lawyer a second bite at the apple of “was the force used reasonable?”  After all, what juror would find the use of force in self-defense reasonable, if the accused could have easily retreated before the altercation?  But the main point here is that the Minnesota duty to retreat is a manifestation of the cultural bias of viewing the abstract self-defender as one of “The Other,” with initial suspicion.

Implications for the future, and for the past

Every person should think about how they will defend against a future attack upon their person or upon another in their company, should it occur.  Ideally that will include self-defense training, whether it is one class or life-long learning and training practice.  As part of that preparation, we can consider: what can I do to better be perceived as a good guy (one of us) rather than The Other (a suspicious outsider)?  Our appearance can play a part in this, as can our words and conduct.

For those of us lawyers or defendants in criminal cases where in the past the defendant acted in self-defense, we can recognize one of the core issues will be “good guy vs. The Other.”  Here, not only the self-defender’s appearance, words and conduct will matter, but also the point-of view adopted by the fact-finder (jury) will be a key.  The law requires the fact-finder to look at what happened at the time, without the benefit of hindsight, from the point-of-view of the defendant.  But the defense lawyer, the judge and the other jurors will need to help the jurors overcome our initial cultural bias against The Other.  The defense lawyer will help the jurors get to know the person who is wrongly accused, is a good guy, acted in self-defense reasonably.

Thomas Gallagher is a Minneapolis criminal lawyer.  His practice includes cases where the accused person acted in self-defense.

Remove Marijuana from Schedule 1 in Minnesota? Amend SF 1219 & HF1376

Has the time come to remove marijuana from Minnesota’s Schedule 1 of the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act?  Yes, the time has come.  Here is an explanation of why; and how you can help make it happen before more lives are destroyed by this irrational and unjust law. we-the-people-norml

The Minnesota Controlled Substances Act (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152) is similar to the Federal Controlled Substances Act (21 United States Code Sections 801 et seq) in that it creates lists, or “schedules” of drugs, numbered one through five.

Drugs listed in Schedule 1 are supposed to be a drug or other substance that has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or lacks accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.  Examples of Schedule 1 drugs include the opiates, such as heroin, morphine, etc.

A “Schedule 2” drug is meant to include drugs with a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and, abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.  Examples of Schedule 2 drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and pentobarbital.

Schedules 3 and 4 are thought to include drugs less harmful or prone to abuse than those the government has listed in Schedule 1 and 2. Schedule 5 includes drug or concentrations of drugs the government thinks are less dangerous or prone to abuse relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule IV, has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule IV.

Where has the government seen fit to categorize marijuana within this scheme?  Currently, they still list marijuana as a “Schedule 1” category drug, right in there with heroin.  Apparently the government views marijuana as more dangerous than methamphetamine, which is only a Schedule 2 drug.

What difference does it make?  Lots.  But here are two big ways it makes a difference where the government categorizes marijuana within its laws: harming people and public safety with criminalization, and harming people and public health by creating a legal barrier to legal medical marijuana treatment.

Criminalization

As the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152) is currently written, removing marijuana from all “schedules” listed (sometimes called “descheduling”) would have limited impact since most controlled substance crimes specifically list marijuana by name.  Moving it from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 would appear to make no difference at all, as far as criminalization is concerned.

Medical Treatment with Marijuana

How can  there be a legal medical marijuana program under Minnesota law, and yet still have marijuana listed as a “Schedule 1 drug,” which is defined as having no currently accepted medical use in treatment?  Is Schedule 1 marijuana really more dangerous than Schedule 2’s methamphetamine?  After all, at least 23 of the 50 states now have legal medical marijuana programs and nearly half the U.S. population lives in states where medical marijuana is legal today.  “No currently accepted medical use in treatment?”  Really?  To the contrary, marijuana is currently accepted medical treatment, across the United States.

Allowing inertia to continue marijuana in Schedule 1 has harmful implications for public health of the people of Minnesota.  It creates innumerable difficulties for sick people who are just trying to treat their illness, including insurance issues.  This in turn creates unfairness for the ill and disabled who have a low-income, or could be driven into the underground market for medicine.

We ought to take our laws seriously and change them to reflect reality and truth, as best we can.  We need to amend Minnesota law to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, either into Schedule 2 or complete descheduling (remove from all Minnesota Controlled Substances Act schedules).

A bipartisan Bill recently introduced into the United States Senate would move marijuana from the federal Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 (titled the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States or “CARERS” Act.)  We should get this done in Minnesota at our state legislature, first. The Minnesota State Senate now has a Bill pending to amend the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act to add various drugs and substances to the various Schedules.

This is a perfect opportunity for us to urge the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House to amend that Bill to either deschedule marijuana, or at least move it down to Schedule 2. In 2011, the Minnesota law was changed so that the Minnesota Pharmacy Board no longer has authority to move drugs or other substances out of Schedule 1.  Only the Minnesota legislature can do it now.

So pick up the phone, send a letter, or otherwise contact your Minnesota State Senator and House Representative and ask them to support an amendment to SF 1219 and HF1376 to deschedule marijuana or reschedule it to Schedule 2.

The Necessity Defense for Medical Marijuana Patients – 2015 Minnesota Proposed Legislation HF 542 – SF 404 Redux

The problem:  In Minnesota today, a medical marijuana patient charged with a marijuana crime is no longer allowed by the courts to tell the jury they were treating illness with marijuana.

shhhhThe solution:  A Bill in the 2015 Legislature would legislatively overrule the court decision that took away “the necessity defense” from medical marijuana patients facing marijuana charges.

Marijuana has been used as effective medicine for thousands of years.  In the 1930s, Minnesota joined a social experiment of Prohibition outlawing the plant – even for medical use. Today though, a majority in the U.S.A. believe that medical marijuana should not be a crime.

Trial by jury limits the power of the government to enforce laws in ways that violate the conscience of the community.  Yet when a chronic pain patient using marijuana as medicine is charged with a marijuana crime, but is not permitted to have their physician testify, or to testify about it themselves; there is no meaningful jury trial.  When the court prevents the jury from hearing defense evidence, excluding the defense, her right to present a defense is violated.

“Necessity” has been a recognized legal defense to what otherwise would be a crime, since ancient times. The New Testament cites examples of eating holy bread through necessity of hunger or taking another’s corn. Mathew 12:3-4. Old English cases recognize the defense of necessity. It was a defense to breaking a law that the accused committed the act to save a life or put out a fire. A person did not commit the misdemeanor of exposing an infected person in public if the person was being carried through the streets to a doctor.

  1. Like self-defense, the necessity defense is an affirmative defense to a criminal charge – a “lesser-of-two-evils” defense. After the accused presents evidence supporting the defense, the judge instructs the jury on the law of the defense of necessity.  If the jury accepts the defense: the defendant did the prohibited act intentionally, but did so reasonably to avoid a greater evil, out of necessity; so it is not a crime.
  2. The necessity defense was repealed by a 1991 Minnesota court decision, in State v. Hanson, 468 NW 2d 77 (Minn Court of Appeals 1991). FFI: http://wp.me/pAFjr-5U
  3. The Minnesota Legislature can restore the rights to a jury trial and to present a defense by passing HF 542 & SF 404. The Bill restores the necessity defense to medical marijuana patients charged with a marijuana crime.  Jurors have the right to know the relevant facts before judging a person’s fate.
  4. People like Angela Brown, and her 15 year-old son, should be allowed to present a necessity defense at her trial, so the jury can then have the power to decide her case based upon the true facts, not some version of the truth manipulated by the court.

Urge your Minnesota Rep. and State Senator to support the necessity defense Bill,  HF 542SF 404, to assure medical patients have the “right to introduce evidence or testimony of a medical need to use, … or [evidence of] a benefit derived from the use” of marijuana or derivatives.

Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Government Stalls Inclusion of Intractable Pain

According to a recent Associated Press article No quick decision on medical marijuana for pain Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Commissioner of Health has decided to postpone adding Intractable Pain to Minnesota’s new,  legal medical marijuana program.  Apparently, Dayton administration officials are setting expectations at the delay being potentially for years.  The reason they cite is their fear that they may not be ready for an increased volume of demand should intractable pain be included in the list of medical problems that qualify for medical marijuana in the Minnesota program.

Arthritis_poster-sm-cr Marijuana has proven an effective treatment for intractable pain — and better than more commonly used narcotic medications.  Marijuana provides pain relief and relief from pain-related disability.  And it does not kill people or have the other side effects that toxic opioid pain medications have.

With 23 states now having legal medical marijuana — Minnesota being a laggard in this respect — one might wonder: how have other states managed to come up with an adequate, legal supply of marijuana to meet the legitimate demand of the sick and suffering for legal, medical marijuana?  One obvious answer could be that only one other of those 23 states has failed to allow the natural, plant-form of marijuana for lawful, medical use.  Minnesota could remove that restriction from its law, and so remove steps that would save time, reduce cost, and help more suffering people sooner.

Other possibilities come to mind to more quickly ramp up production of legal marijuana in Minnesota; including authorizing more than two producers, and authorizing legal home grow for qualified medical marijuana patients.  These would also reduce the expected high cost of medicine in Minnesota’s medical marijuana program.

Minnesota’s governor was not an enthusiastic supporter of the medical marijuana law that eventually passed last year, but did sign on to a compromise law that is one of the two weakest in the United States today.  This news of delay in including intractable pain, could be interpreted by some as more evidence of tepid support for medical marijuana from the Minnesota Governor.

What can be done?  The Minnesota legislature could pass additional legislation to strengthen and expand Minnesota’s medical marijuana program.  It could also pass the medical necessity defense Bill, to restore fairness for patients facing criminal charges for marijuana. The bill, HF 542 in the Minnesota House and SF 404 in the Minnesota Senate, would give medical marijuana patients the “right to introduce evidence or testimony of a medical need to use, … or [evidence of] a benefit derived from the use” of marijuana or marijuana products.

Marijuana Medical Necessity: Why Minnesota Needs a New Law Affirming Your Right to Present a Medical Necessity Defense to a Marijuana Charge

Minnesota needs to adopt a new statute affirming your right to present the defense of medical necessity to a marijuana criminal-charge.  Why?

Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used by humans as medicine for thousands of years successfully for relief and treatment of disease.  Modern medical research, as well as clinical practice, has proven its efficacy in relieving symptoms as well as curing diseases — from the bothersome all the way to cancer.

Marijuana had never been a crime.  But beginning in the 1930s in the United States, as the alcohol Prohibition regime was disintegrating, a new experiment in Prohibition was being developed to replace it — the marijuana Prohibition.  Marijuana was widely used as medicine at the time, and its medicinal use persisted for decades but was eventually driven underground after increased criminalization policies in the United States, and in Minnesota.  Its use, including medical use, continued but was made criminal.

Necessity has been a recognized legal defense to what otherwise would be a crime, since ancient times.  In The Defense of Necessity in Criminal Law: The Right to Choose the Lesser Evil some of this history is summarized:

The English courts stated the principle of necessity in 1551 in Reninger v. Fagossa (1 Plowd. 1, 75 Eng. Rep. 1): “A man may break the words of the law, and yet not break the law itself … where the words of them are broken to avoid greater inconvenience, or through necessity, or by compulsion.” The case cites the New Testament example of eating sacred bread through necessity of hunger or taking another’s corn. Mathew 12:3-4. Older English cases contain many examples which recognize the general principle of necessity. It was a defense to breaking a law that the person committed the act to save a life or put out a fire. Jurors could depart without the permission of the judge in case of emergency. Prisoners might escape from a burning jail without committing a crime. A person did not commit the misdemeanor of exposing an infected person in public if the person was being carried through the streets to a doctor.

The necessity defense is sometimes called the lesser-of-two-evils defense.  It is a justification type defense.  If the defense is accepted by the jury, it does not mean the defendant did not intentionally do the prohibited act, but rather that he or she reasonably did so to avoid a greater evil, out of necessity.  It is a common law defense — old and widely accepted.  Like many other common law defenses, it has often been codified in statutes over the past several decades, in many jurisdictions.

med-mj-mn-signThe term “medical necessity defense” is a special application of the more general, necessity defense.  If you are sick with glaucoma or cancer and marijuana provides you with relief or cure, even though marijuana may be a crime to possess or grow in some states, you may decide that preserving your health (or your child’s life) is a greater necessity than complying with the criminal Prohibition.  The majority of people in the United States today, according to poll after poll, agree that medical use of marijuana should not be a crime.  As a result it is likely that many if not most jurors may share that majority view, that medical marijuana is not a real crime.  But in Minnesota jurors are not currently empowered to decide cases with all of the evidence.

Since you are constitutionally guaranteed the right to a jury trial, and the right to present a complete defense — to present the jury with your true defense, for the jury to do with it as it will —  how could it be that the Minnesota appellate courts have so far held that you have no right to present a medical necessity defense in a marijuana case?

To find out, you can read the Minnesota Court of Appeals case from 1991, State v. Hanson.  Though every court case is fact specific to a great extent, the court’s main rationales in the State v. Hanson case are captured in this excerpt:

“The statutory classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance implies a determination that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States.” Minn.Stat. § 152.02, subd. 7(1) (1990). The legislature has enacted a single exception, in the THC Therapeutic Research Act (TRA), exempting from criminal sanctions possession or use of marijuana for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who are receiving the drug under the strict controls of an approved medical research program. Minn. Stat. § 152.21, subds. 1, 3, 6 (1990). These statutory provisions demonstrate that the legislature has specifically addressed and determined the possible medical uses of marijuana.”

The first point, that marijuana has been classified by Minnesota as “a Schedule I substance” meaning they claim that it has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” if it has ever been true, is certainly not true today.  Though marijuana is still arbitrarily classified by Minnesota as “Schedule I,” the majority of the United States population now lives in states with legal medical marijuana programs, and marijuana is now currently accepted as having medical use — including by the United States Surgeon General.

The second argument advanced in Hanson, was that since the Minnesota legislature had enacted THC Therapeutic Research Act (which created a “research” program so restrictive that nothing ever came of it); that therefore the legislature must have intended to preclude any other consideration of any other exception or defense for medical use of marijuana (though it never said so).  Not particularly persuasive here, the argument is of the classic rhetorical form — expressio unius est exclusio alterius, a Latin phase meaning “the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other.”

The Hanson case was from 1991.  Much has changed since then, politically, legally, and in the medical research community, has it not?  So would a modern Minnesota appellate court right this 1991 wrong?  In 2014, it didn’t. In a 2014 decision the Minnesota Supreme Court, in State v. Thiel left intact the Schedule I classification despite a constitutional challenge by a defendant convicted of marijuana possession who had not been allowed to let the jury know the truth about his medical  condition, his medical recommendation for marijuana as medicine, or his California medical marijuana card.

It seems reasonable to conclude then, that the Minnesota courts are unlikely to remedy this injustice and restore our right to a fair jury trial, and our right to present a complete defense in Minnesota — at least not in the near term.

That is why we need the Minnesota legislature to restore some measure of Liberty and Justice in Minnesota, by passing a Bill for a new statute guaranteeing your right to let the jury hear the truth, that medical marijuana is a lesser evil (if it is an evil at all) than violating the criminal law prohibiting marijuana.

The Bill currently in the Minnesota legislature would restore the necessity defense to medical marijuana patients charged with a marijuana crime in Minnesota.  It would guarantee that the accused could use this as an affirmative defense — meaning the defendant would have the burden of showing prima facie evidence of medical necessity, and if successful, the ultimate burden of proving criminal guilt would then shift to the prosecution.  This would help restore the right to a jury trial to an extent as well.  The jurors have the right to hear the truth before condemning a person.

Contact your Minnesota House of Representatives member, your Minnesota State Senator, and the Governor to urge support of the medical necessity Bill, HF 542.

Minnesota’s Incomplete Marijuana Decriminalization – the Hashish Technicality

In 1976, Minnesota decriminalized possession of a “small amount” of marijuana. Or did it?  Minnesota has only partially decriminalized marijuana.  Here is how.

Hashish is marijuana (or cannabis). It is a compressed or purified preparation of marijuana, that people around the world have safely used for thousands of years for recreational, medicinal and religious purposes. It’s made of cannabis-plant trichomes, flower and leaf fragments.  makehashMechanical methods remove the trichomes from the plant, screening by hand or with motorized tumblers. The resulting powder is heated and compressed into hashish.  Chemical separation methods use a solvent like ethanol, butane or hexane to dissolve resin, which is filtered.  Then the solvent is boiled off leaving behind the resins – called honey oil, “hash oil,” or wax.

The problem:

Minnesota Statutes contain technical definitions that don’t always make common sense, and are sometimes inconsistent with a dictionary definition or common understanding of a word.  In this case, Minnesota Statutes Section 152.01, subdivision 16, defines a “small amount” of marijuana as 42.5 grams or less, but says “this provision [defining a “small amount”] shall not apply to the resinous form of marijuana.”

Increasingly in Minnesota, people found by police to be in possession of a small amount of hashish or similar “resinous form of marijuana” are being charged with felony crimes.  Under current Minnesota law, any amount – even a small amount – of hashish, hash oil, cannabis wax, or a similar “resinous form of marijuana” can be charged as a felony crime.  This includes people who are lawful  medical marijuana users in other states, found with a small amount of the resinous form of marijuana in Minnesota.

In contrast, 42.5 grams (slightly less than 1.5 ounces) of plant-form marijuana is decriminalized in Minnesota.  It’s a petty misdemeanor; not a crime; cannot legally be the basis of an arrest; with the only penalty being a fine.  See, Minnesota Statutes Section 152.027, subdivision 4.

Why the exclusion of “resinous form of marijuana” makes no sense:

It’s marijuana:  There is no question that the “resinous form of marijuana” (hashish, honey oil, cannabis wax, etc.) is marijuana.  It’s simply a form of marijuana.  Another provision of Minnesota law explicitly recognizes this.  The definition of Marijuana” in Minnesota Statutes Section 152.01, subdivision 9, defines it as “all parts of the plant of any species of the genus Cannabis, including all agronomical varieties, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin…”

Minnesota Public Policy favors the resinous form over the plant-form:  Last year in 2014 the Minnesota legislature and Governor adopted into law a medical marijuana program which specifically found that resinous form of marijuana was safer and preferable to the plant-form of marijuana.  Minnesota law now contains a preference for the resinous form of marijuana, over the plant-form, as a matter of legislatively declared public policy.  Minnesota medical marijuana program participants will be able to lawfully possess and use the resinous form of marijuana obtained through the program, but will be deemed criminal if they use or possess the plant-form of marijuana.

Has the time come to update Minnesota’s 1970s era decriminalization law, to treat small amounts of all forms of marijuana equally?  More importantly, should Minnesota law continue to make felons out of people in Minnesota who possess a small amount of the “resinous form of marijuana”?  The technical distinction between marijuana in plant form versus resinous form is lost on most people, who typically believe they are in compliance with the state’s decrim law – only to discover their error after it is too late.

The law should be consistent.  It should treat people fairly.  It should not create felons based upon arbitrary distinctions and technical legal definitions that don’t make sense to people.

The remedy?

The Minnesota legislature can fix this.  How?  Pass a Bill that amends Minnesota Statutes Section 152.01, subdivision 16, defining a “small amount” of marijuana, to delete the language “this provision shall not apply to the resinous form of marijuana.”  That should solve the problem, and bring more common sense and equity into the law.