Category Archives: marijuana laws

Less Than One-Quarter Gram Possession Gross Misdemeanor Crime < Minnesota Laws 2016

One quarter gram marijuana wax threshold

Quarter gram marijuana wax:  The Minnesota Legislature made some changes to Minnesota “Controlled Substance” laws, effective August 1, 2016.  One created a Gross Misdemeanor level crime for certain “controlled substance” possession crimes, for less than 0.25 grams or one dosage unit or less.

Limitations

Limited to first-timers, this law applies to a person “who has not been previously convicted of a violation of this chapter …”  And the law applies to all “controlled substances” other than heroin.

Before this 2016 law, even these amounts of marijuana wax were charged as felonies.  A felony drug conviction can trigger lost jobs, lost of civil rights, immigration consequences.  The law steps in the right direction.

The statutory language:

Minn. Stat. §152.025, Subd. 4 (a)(1) “the amount of the controlled substance possessed, other than heroin, is less than 0.25 grams or one dosage unit or less if the controlled substance was possessed in dosage units …”

hash-quarter-gram-lighter

one-quarter gram of hash relative to the size of a lighter

Does this mean defense lawyers will no longer need to litigate trace amount issues and cases?

No.  A Gross Misdemeanor is still a serious crime.

Also, this new law does not apply to heroin or federal cases.

What about marijuana, including derivatives such as marijuana wax, dabs?

Small Amount Currently Plant-form Only

Minnesota law defines possession of a “small amount” of plant-form marijuana as a petty misdemeanor (not a crime, violation-fine only).  Minnesota Statutes §152.01, Subd. 16 defines Small amount: “‘Small amount’ as applied to marijuana means 42.5 grams or less. This provision shall not apply to the resinous form of marijuana.”

So, 0.24 grams or less of plant-form marijuana could be charged a petty misdemeanor violation, not a gross misdemeanor.

However, when it comes to the “resinous form of marijuana” exception (presumably marijuana wax, dabs, THC oil),  the “small amount” definition would not apply.  But the new trace amount Gross Misdemeanor possession law would apply – rather than a felony as before August 1, 2016.

Dosage units

When could quantity be charged in dosage units, rather than weight?

We can be divide these into two categories: prescription drugs and underground-economy drugs.  Most people possess prescription drugs in pill form.  A “dosage unit” could be one pill, or more than one, depending upon the recommendation of the drug maker, pharmacist, or prescribing physician.

For underground economy drugs, “one dosage unit” could be more than one pill, or more than one square of blotter paper with LSD on it.  For example, see State v. Palmer, 507 NW 2d 865 (Minn.App. 1993) (“four small squares on each sheet constituted a ‘hit’ or dosage unit”).  

A grey area:  What about edibles like THC gummies?  Is one a “dosage unit?”  What about a marijuana wax cartridge?

Medical marijuana produced by a legal-maker should be treated like prescription drugs.

Pre-trial Diversion & Statutory Stay of Adjudication

What about Minnesota Pretrial Diversion programs and statutory Stays of Adjudication under Minnesota Statutes §152.18?

They are still available for those charged with Minnesota Fifth Degree “Controlled Substance” Crime, Gross Misdemeanor, since the charge is a Fifth Degree charge against a person without prior drug convictions.

New Legislation Needed

Is it fair to charge a person with a Gross Misdemeanor or Felony crime for possession of a small amount of marijuana wax?  The “small amount of marijuana” definition statute, quoted above, should be amended to delete the words “This provision shall not apply to the resinous form of marijuana.” 

We, the People, should have our rights respected by government to marijuana and marijuana wax, equal to our rights to beer, wine and liquor.

Short of legalization, however, we should at least delete the “resinous form” exception to the definition of a “small amount of marijuana.”  If Minnesota did so, at least People with a small amount of marijuana wax (42.5 grams or less) would not be treated like criminals.

Gallagher-Defense-logo-gr-ps-sm

Thomas Gallagher is a Minneapolis Drug Defense Lawyer, since 1988.  He is also serves on the Board of Directors of Minnesota NORML, since 2011.

Remove Marijuana from Schedule 1 in Minnesota?

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 phenobarbital.

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.

Thomas C. Gallagher is a Minneapolis Defense Attorney representing people accused of marijuana crimes, and serves on the Board of Minnesota NORML.

The Necessity Defense for Medical Marijuana Patients – 2015 Minnesota Proposed Legislation 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 see: Marijuana Medical Necessity: Why Minnesota Needs a Law Affirming Your Defense.
  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.

Thomas Gallagher is a Minneapolis Marijuana Lawyer working in criminal defense.

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.

By: Thomas C. Gallagher, Minneapolis Marijuana Lawyer and Minnesota NORML Board Member.

Marijuana Medical Necessity: Why Minnesota Needs a Law Affirming Your Defense

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 often 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.

A super-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.

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.  So 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’s Minnesota classification as “a Schedule I substance” implies that it has “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” if ever 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 the 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.”

And perhaps ironically, the THC Therapeutic Research Act, Minnesota Statutes Section 152.21, subd. 6, removes marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2:

“For the purposes of this section, THC is removed from Schedule I contained in section 152.02, subdivision 2, and inserted in Schedule II … .” 

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.

Thomas Gallagher is a Minnesota Marijuana Lawyer with a criminal defense practice based in Minneapolis.