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.”

Point-of-view makes all the difference

Point-of-view makes all the difference

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

Self-defense training EBMAS

Self-defense training

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?

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: 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.

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.  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.

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

Minnesota’s Incomplete Marijuana Decriminalization – Resinous Form Exception

Minnesota 1970s partial decriminalization of marijuana

In 1976, Minnesota decriminalized possession of a “small amount” of marijuana. Or did it?  Minnesota has only partially decriminalized a small amount of marijuana, in plant-form only.  But the law left a loophole for “the resinous form of marijuana,” which was still a felony.  The resinous form comes in many forms under many names.  These include THC oil, dabs, marijuana wax, and concentrates.

Prehistoric marijuana forms

Hashish is marijuana. It is a compressed plant-form of marijuana.

People around the world have safely used it for thousands of years for social, medicinal and religious purposes. Cannabis-plant trichomes, flower and leaf fragments are hashish.

Hashish: compressed plant material

Hashish: compressed plant material

Mechanical methods remove the trichomes from the plant, screening by hand or with motorized tumblers.  Just heat and compress the resulting powder into hashish. 

Does hashish fit the definition of “the resinous form” of marijuana in Minnesota Statutes?  Probably not, since it is still plant-form, not the chemically processed “resinous form.”

Hashish is less common these days in Minnesota.  It generally comes from parts of the world where traditional.  Most marijuana in Minnesota today is from the United States.

The resinous form – extracted resin

Chemical separation methods use a solvent like ethanol, butane or hexane to dissolve resin.  Then, filter the result.  And boil off the solvent to leave behind the resins – called honey oil, THC oil, marijuana wax, dabs, shatter.  All of these are the “resinous form.” 

It’s also a common an ingredient in medical marijuana edibles.

The problem:

Minnesota Statutes contain technical definitions that don’t always make common sense.  Sometimes statutory definitions are 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.”

In Minnesota, prosecutors can charge possession of 1/4 gram or more of “the resinous form of marijuana” as a felony.  That includes a “small amount” or less than 42.5 grams – about 1.5 ounces.  Victims of the law include medical users from other states, found with a small amount of resinous form in Minnesota.

In contrast, the law decriminalizes 42.5 grams (slightly less than 1.5 ounces) of plant-form marijuana 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 exclusion of “resinous form of marijuana” makes no sense:

THC Oil. Similar to dabs, marijuana wax

THC Oil. Similar to dabs, marijuana wax

It’s marijuana:  There is no question that the “resinous form of marijuana” (honey oil, dabs, 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 Legislative Public Policy favors the resinous form:

In 2014 the Minnesota legislature and Governor adopted into law a medical marijuana program.   They specifically found that the 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.  This is the legislature’s declaration of public policy.

Minnesota medical marijuana program participants can lawfully possess and use the resinous form of marijuana obtained through the program.  But they now become criminal if they use or possess the plant-form of marijuana.

Marijuana is marijuana. But is a small amount a small amount? 

Minnesota law makes clear that THC oil, dabs, marijuana wax, and concentrates – “the resinous form of marijuana” – is marijuana.

If someone possesses “a small amount” why should it matter whether it’s the plant-form or the resinous-form?  A small amount is a small amount.  One should not be a felony crime while the other is “not a crime.”

Close the loophole in the law?

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 make felons out of people who possess a small amount of the “resinous form of marijuana”?  Most people don’t comprehend a meaningful distinction between marijuana in plant form versus resinous form.   People typically think they’re complying with the state’s decrim law – only to discover their error after it is too late. 

The law makes felons on a technicality.

The law should be consistent.  Simplicity is a virtue in the law.  And it should treat people fairly.  It should not create felons based upon arbitrary distinctions and technical legal definitions that don’t make sense.

The recent reduction of less than one-quarter gram of less to a Gross Misdemeanor is nearly meaningless.  Marijuana should be legal.  Two-thirds of the voters polled want legalization.  But if politicians keep us waiting, at least close the loophole in Minnesota’s “small amount” decriminalization law.

The simple remedy?

The Minnesota legislature can fix this.  How?  Pass a Bill amending Minnesota Statutes Section § 152.01, subdivision 16, defining a “small amount” of marijuana.  Just delete the language “this provision shall not apply to the resinous form of marijuana.

That simple solution should solve this problem, and bring a little more common sense and equity into the law.

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Thomas Gallagher is a Marijuana Lawyer in Minneapolis, and serves on the Board of Directors of Minnesota NORML.

House Version of Competing Minnesota Medical Marijuana Bills Faces Legal Hurdles

Last week the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate each passed different versions of a medical marijuana law to provide relief to some of the sick and dying.  (Current SF 2470 is the House Delete-All Bill; while current SF 1641 is the Senate Bill.)  The previous post points out some of the differences in the two Bills, which will go to a Senate-House Conference Committee.  Once the Conference Committee negotiates a single Bill from the two versions, the Bill will go back to the House and Senate for an up or down vote; and if passed, it will then go to the Governor for consideration for approval into law.

One key difference between the two versions is that the the House Bill follows a medical, clinical study format with distribution through pharmacists.  This fundamental difference will trigger presumably unintended consequences that will likely may the proposed law unworkable under other, existing Minnesota laws relating to pharmacists.

These other laws relating to pharmacies are not an issue for the Senate Bill because it follows a dispensary model, as other the other twenty-one medical marijuana states do; and does not include pharmacists  in distribution of medicine.

Image

House bill affirmatively requires a pharmacist to dispense cannabis. Senate bill does not.

Here are some pharmacist-related Minnesota laws and rules that will create trouble for the House bill:

Minnesota Statutes §151.15 COMPOUNDING DRUGS UNLAWFUL UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS.  “It shall be unlawful for any person to compound, dispense, vend, or sell drugs, medicines, chemicals, or poisons in any place other than a pharmacy, except as provided in this chapter.”

Minnesota Statutes §151.06 POWERS AND DUTIES. Subdivision 1. “Generally; rules. a) Powers and duties. The Board of Pharmacy shall have the power and it shall be its duty:
(7) to deny, suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew any registration or license required under this chapter, to any applicant or registrant or licensee upon any of the following grounds: …
(ii) in the case of a pharmacist, conviction in any court of a felony; …
(vii) employing, assisting, or enabling in any manner an unlicensed person to practice pharmacy; …
(ix) violation of any of the provisions of this chapter or any of the rules of the State Board of Pharmacy;”

Minnesota Administrative Rules § 6800.2250 UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT.  “Subpart 1. Prohibited conduct. Unprofessional conduct shall include, but is not limited to, the following acts of a pharmacist or pharmacy:

H. The violation of any law, rule, regulation, or ordinance of the state or any of its political subdivisions, including the Board of Pharmacy, or the United States government, or any agency thereof relating to the practice of pharmacy.

Subp. 3. Accessories to illegal drug traffic. The selling, giving away, or otherwise disposing of accessories (i.e., glassine papers, empty capsules, quinine, lactose, or similar products), chemicals, or drugs found in illegal drug traffic is unprofessional conduct by a pharmacist when the pharmacist knows or should have known of their intended use in illegal activities.

It is unclear how the House version (SF 2470 the House Delete-All Bill) can be fixed to avoid these problems which would appear to make it completely unworkable and illusory.  It is based on distribution through pharmacists — a new, first-time experiment in the United States.  No other medical marijuana state has ever tried this approach before.  On the other hand the Senate version (SF 1641 the Senate Bill) relies upon the tried and true method of dispensaries, which has been used for years in the other states with legal medical marijuana programs.  If Minnesota truly wants to provide needed compassionate relief to the sick, ill and dying in Minnesota, let’s hope the legislature’s Conference Committee agrees to send the Senate version for final approval to the House, Senate and Governor.

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