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Marijuana Legalization in Minnesota: What Should It Look like?

Has the time come for marijuana legalization in Minnesota?

Opposing legalization is now political suicide

Opposing marijuana legalization for responsible adult use is now political suicide.  That might surprise a few.  But much has changed.

Last month Gallup reported its polling on the issue“Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana.”

Democracy?  Bipartisan Majorities

And support is bipartisan.  Though more Democrats support marijuana legalization than Republicans, “Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year’s figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support.”

Pew Research Center reports similar polling, pointing out that support for marijuana legalization is now double what it was in 2000.

History doesn’t repeat; it rhymes

Students of history draw lessons from the alcohol Prohibition life cycle.  Why did it take so long to end it, even after a majority of Americans opposed it?

The five percent tipping point

Marijuana legalization at the Capitol.  Minnesota NORML.

Marijuana legalization at the Capitol. Minnesota NORML.

One answer?

The tipping point was when about five percent of the voters made legalization a wedge issue.  In other words they would disregard political party, other issues, and vote for a political candidate solely on the issue of re-legalization.

The alcohol Prohibition repeal soon followed.

Elections matter

In the 2018 general election, two single-issue marijuana legalization parties achieved major party status in Minnesota.  Their candidates for statewide office received more than the five percent threshold to qualify as major political parties.

How many elections are won or lost by less than five percent of the vote in Minnesota?  Opposition to the majority will now has a severe price: losing.

The time has come for marijuana legalization.  But what should it look like in Minnesota?

What should marijuana legalization look like in Minnesota?

The issue is Liberty, not marijuana.  Ending marijuana Prohibition is consistent with conservative political values.  Less government means more freedom.  Prohibition is a government bloat program, that destroys lives, destroys our freedom.

We the People have at least equal rights to marijuana as we do to beer and wine.  The fact that marijuana is safer than beer and wine, undercuts the Prohibitionist lie that “marijuana is a dangerous drug.”  Death by overdose happens with alcohol, but cannot happen with marijuana.  Marijuana has no toxic dose level, unlike caffeine, aspirin and many other commonly used, legal drugs.

The three legal models for marijuana 

We’ve seen three models for our legal rights to marijuana, in chronological order:

  1. The Tomato Model
  2. The Prohibition Model
  3. The Beer and Wine Model

The Tomato Model

The Tomato Model of marijuana legalization

The Tomato Model of marijuana legalization

Under the Tomato Model of marijuana laws, the people have rights to marijuana equal to our rights to tomatoes.  The law lightly regulates tomatoes.  Tomatoes are not a crime to grow, possess, or sell.

The Tomato model means laws the repeal of laws criminalizing it.  People are free to do with marijuana what they can do with tomatoes.  We call it decriminalization.

This was the state of the marijuana laws before the marijuana Prohibition era began.   Advocates of the tomato model say we should return to this.  Of the three legal models, the tomato model is the most conservative.  It protects the People’s Liberty most.

The Prohibition Model

The writing is on the wall: Vote Against Prohibition

The writing is on the wall: Vote Against Prohibition

Marijuana Prohibition never would have happened but for the alcohol Prohibition.  As the alcohol Prohibition was winding down in the 1930s, state by state, the government Prohibition bureaucracy ramped up its anti-marijuana propaganda; much of it with appeals to racism.

They succeeded.  They tricked the public into funding a massive anti-marijuana government bureaucracy.

It was a solution in search of a problem.  At the time, marijuana usage rate was infinitesimal.  Now almost every American has used marijuana at least once, thanks to Prohibition.

Though ten states have legalized marijuana for adult use, Minnesotans still live under the shadow of marijuana Prohibition.  The government still pays police officers to break down doors, toss people’s cars, searching for marijuana.  Then we pay prosecuting attorneys to charge people with marijuana with crimes, label us criminals, strip our civil rights and lock us up.

And enforcement disproportionately impacts African-Americans, despite equivalent usage rates with other ethnic groups.  Marijuana legalization ends these social evils.

The Beer and Wine model

Wine may not be for everyone, but a crime?

Wine may not be for everyone, but a crime?

Under “the beer and wine model,” the people of Minnesota have equal rights to marijuana just the same as to beer and wine.

The metaphor works because people are familiar with beer and wine.  The law treats marijuana the same as beer and wine in every way.  It also works because marijuana is safer than beer or wine.  This undercuts opponents’ “public safety” argument.

Wherever the law now says “beer” or “wine,” we can add the word marijuana.  What could be more simple?

Step one – decriminalization

Prohibition Still Doesn't Work. NORML.

Prohibition Still Doesn’t Work. NORML.

Of course, we need to delete all criminal laws referencing “marijuana” and “THC.”  This includes deleting both from the Schedules in Minnesota’s version of the Controlled Substances Act, now in Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152.  We call this “de-scheduling.”

In addition, the criminal drug laws will be amended to delete all references to THC and marijuana.  Most of these are also in Chapter 152.

That is the decriminalization component.  For supporters of The Tomato Model, that is all we should do.

Step two – regulation

Under the beer and wine model, we not only completely decriminalize, we also enact a set of laws regulating marijuana production and sale.  Here the existing beer and wine laws guide us.

We have equal rights to marijuana as to beer and wine.  So the marijuana laws mirror those regulating beer and wine.

Conservatives and Liberty advocates may prefer The Tomato Model for marijuana laws, as we had before Prohibition.  But here history has another lesson for us.

The legal framework for alcohol was The Tomato Model before the alcohol Prohibition.  But after the repeal of alcohol Prohibition, the laws regulated alcoholic beverages.  We’ll skip the reasons for that.

Suffice it to say, strong public support now exists for re-legalizing marijuana for responsible adult use under The Beer and Wine Model.  The ten states that have legalized so far have substantially followed The Beer and Wine Model.  Marijuana legalization in the Untied States so far means decriminalized and regulated like beer and wine.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Beer and Wine Model is the big idea.  Liberty.  Equal rights.  Civil rights.  Racial justice.  These core American values support the beer and wine model of legalization, far better the evils of Prohibition.

What should marijuana legalization look like in Minnesota?  The People should have at least equal rights to marijuana as to beer and wine.  With that core principle, the rest takes care of itself.

Details Matter Too

We’ll take a deeper dive into the details of proposed legislation in the future.  But now let’s take a look a few of the important details of re-legalization in Minnesota.

Home Grow is Alright With Me

Even with regulated beer and wine, we have the right to produce beer and wine at home in small batches.  Under the beer and wine model for marijuana regulation, we can grow marijuana on our own property, in small batches.  Current Minnesota marijuana cultivation laws include nonsense.

A little Minnesota history

Minnesota laws contradict each other when it comes to forms of marijuana.

A rose is a rose.

A rose is a rose.

In the 1970s, the laws favored plant-form marijuana and disfavored “the resinous form,” which we now call “wax.”  Then they thought “the resinous form” more dangerous than plant-form.

The distinction remains in Minnesota Statutes definition of a “small amount of marijuana.” That definition makes an exception for a small amount of the resinous form of marijuana, which currently remains a crime.

Yet in the 2010s, the Minnesota legislature crafted a Medical Marijuana law which favored “the resinous form” (concentrates) and disfavored plant-form marijuana.  More recently they thought that the resinous form was safer than plant-form.  The legislature then approved only the resinous form, for legal use within Minnesota’s original medical marijuana program.

The public policy in these two sets of laws conflict.

A rose is a rose is a rose

The time has come to end the legal distinction between plant-form and the resinous form.  We should treat all forms of marijuana as marijuana.  It’s the same plant, the same substance.  The distinction between forms creates needless confusion.  If it made any sense, the legislature would not have contradicted itself.

Repair the Minnesota Medical Marijuana Program

The once and future medical cannabis

The once and future medical cannabis

The lack of plant-form and home grow in Minnesota’s medical marijuana program has undermined it.  Now, Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is super-expensive and out of reach for disabled, sick people.  And insurance does not cover it.

The “concentrates only” approach of Minnesota’s medical marijuana program adds unnecessary cost.  Plant-form is less costly to produce.

The lack of legal home grow for Minnesota medical marijuana patients denies access to medical care to low-income, disabled people.  They can grow their own, cheap.

Suppliers and distribution

The law of supply and demand is stronger than criminal law

The law of supply and demand is stronger than criminal law

The “bad model” at this point is Colorado, the first state to legalize.  Why?  Because it  has a super-expensive seed to retail sale surveillance regimen then meant to reassure and deter diversion.  Now that ten states have legalized for adult use, this is an unneeded expense.

If retail cost is too high, the underground economy will continue.  We need to destroy the underground economy using the laws of economics, not failed criminal laws.

Suppliers and distribution.  The existing two medical suppliers and existing legal hemp growers are places to look for beginning suppliers.  With the recent federal farm Bill’s adoption, the hemp form of cannabis is now legal to possess under Minnesota and federal law.

Over-taxation

In some other states, over-taxation is a problem.  If retail cost is too high, the underground economy will continue.

Equal rights, and justice:  The “beer and wine model” comes to the rescue again.   We should not tax marijuana more than the beer and wine.  The “sin tax” on beer and wine is already sky-high.

Transitional issues

What are transitional issues?  These are issues that are big problems as we transition from a Prohibition Model, to a Beer and Wine Model of marijuana regulation.   But we expect that ten years after legalization many of these issues will subside.

There are many transitional issues.  Let’s mention a few.

Automatic record voiding of convictions and expungement

Minnesota’s legalization law should include automatic vacating of convictions and public records expungement.

Today, most people who qualify for criminal record expungement never file a Petition for Expungement in court due to cost barriers.

The law should require the government to automatically vacate every criminal conviction related to marijuana or THC, and expunge those public records.  We should remove the burden from the victims of Prohibition and put it on the government.

Many do not know that a typical Minnesota court expungement Order will not fully restore civil rights under federal law.  The conviction itself must be undone, vacated and dismissed, as if never happened.  We must do that, in order to fully restore all civil rights in a way the federal laws will recognize.  A simple sealing of public records will not fully restore civil rights.

Amnesty for Drug War P.O.W.s

We should immediately release all people locked up for any marijuana or THC crime, from jail or prison.

Force the Minnesota Department of Corrections to follow the law

Thomas C. Gallagher, Minnesota NORML

Thomas C. Gallagher, Minnesota NORML Member

When a court sentences a person to prison, it strips them of their civil rights and commits them to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).

The Minnesota DOC “policy” is to revoke supervised release for legal medical marijuana users.

We must stop this Minnesota DOC policy and practice.   We need a statute to reign in this Minnesota DOC violation of existing Minnesota law.

What do you think?

Drop your comment below.

About the author

Gallagher-Defense-logoWritten by Thomas C. Gallagher.  Gallagher has worked on re-legalization issues for over 30 years.

He is a former Chair of Minnesota NORML and is founding Board Member, since 2011.

Thomas Gallagher is a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis with a heavy portion of marijuana defense cases.

Thomas C. Gallagher Elected Chair of Minnesota NORML Board of Directors – Marijuana Legalization in Minnesota

On September 16, 2017 the Board of Directors of Minnesota NORML elected Thomas C. Gallagher to the position of Chair of the Board.  Gallagher is a Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer who twice campaigned for election as a Representative in the Minnesota House in District 61B (incumbent Paul Thissen) in 2014 and 2016.  He was the endorsed candidate of Republican Party of Minnesota in both election cycles.

Minnesota NORML is a non-partisan Minnesota Nonprofit with 501(c)(4) status,” Gallagher noted.  “Our goal is legal marijuana in Minnesota for responsible adult use.  Minnesotans should have equal rights to cannabis as to beer and wine.  This means age 21 and older, taxed and regulated the same as beer and wine, and legal small batch home production.”

Thomas C. Gallagher, Chair, Minnesota NORML

Home grow” Gallagher said, “is essential.  Ending marijuana prohibition is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom.  We want to empower the People, support Liberty for all.  With legal home grow, anyone can grow their own cannabis for medicinal or personal use with little money.  Freedom should not be limited to people with money.”

“Now that all major polling shows majority support for legalization of marijuana (and a super-majority for medical marijuana), why – in a democracy – is the will of the People not yet enacted into law?” Gallagher asks.

If our elected officials lack the political courage to enact the will of the People, then we say “Let the People Decide!”  Bills in the Minnesota legislature would place a constitutional amendment on the general election ballot to, finally, legalize marijuana for responsible adult use like beer and wine.  Even politicians unwilling to support legalization should be able to support democracy, the vote and “allowing” the People to decide.  We support these Bills.

“It’s not inevitable.  There are vested interests who now profit from the current Prohibition regime fighting hard to reverse the progress we’ve made, and to stop the return of Freedom to the People of Minnesota,” Gallagher warned.  “’How soon will it be legal?’ people ask me.  ‘How soon will you join us working hard to make it happen?’ is my smiling reply” says Gallagher.

For the City Pages article: New NORML chair is a Republican lawyer with tips on driving with marijuana.

Minnesota NORML holds monthly Members Meetings and other events and activities to help people connect and get involved.  For further information:
https://mnnorml.org/
https://www.facebook.com/mnNORML

#LetThePeopleDecide

Legislative Update: The Minnesota Bong Water Crime Case

Remember the recent Minnesota Supreme Court case that took a literal interpretation of a statute – to an absurd result – ruling that water could enhance the severity of a drug crime?  It was a bare majority decision, 4-3, with a concurring opinion and strongly worded dissents.  After the majority, concurring and dissenting opinions are all tallied, five out of seven wrote that the legislature should amend the statute to cure the injustice.  The case ruled that Bong Water (water used in a water pipe) was a “mixture” of “25 grams or more” supporting a criminal conviction for Controlled Substance crime in the first degree (30 years of prison maximum), though it contained only trace amounts of illegal drugs.

Tap Water Contains Drugs

The case is Minnesota v  Peck, Minnesota Supreme Court, October 22, 2009.  The blog article here, written the day the opinion was published is: Minnesota Court Waters Down Legal Definition of Illegal Drugs: Toilet Water Now Criminal to Possess.

The case gained worldwide infamy.  If trace amounts of criminalized drugs in bong water could be a crime based upon the weight of the water “mixture,” then would not trace amounts of illegal drugs in our drinking water also be a crime to possess?  And if that is the case, which of course it must be, then is not every citizen of Minnesota a drug criminal – by virtue of possessing river sourced tap water?  (Those with well water presumably can rest easy, without fear of a drug-police home invasion.)

A Bill in now being considered by the Minnesota Legislature, for the Safe Drug Disposal Act is an attempt to ameliorate the problem of pharmaceutical drugs in our drinking water supply, and rivers.  It is a crime in Minnesota to possess prescription drugs without a prescription for those drugs.

Will Minnesota lawmakers heed the call of the Minnesota Supreme Court and public outrage and undo the “Minnesota Bong Water Case?”

A Bill has been introduced in the Minnesota House, H.F. No. 2757, to amend Minnesota Statutes section 152.01, subdivision 9a, to read:

Subd. 9a.  Mixture.  “Mixture” means a preparation, compound, mixture, or substance containing a controlled substance, regardless of where purity is relevant only when weighing the residue of a controlled substance.

If adopted into law, this would bring back proportionality of the severity of a drug crime to quantity.

Advocates of drug legalization (regulation and taxation) may have mixed feelings about this reform.  Yes – it would cure an outlandish, gross injustice to people facing exaggerated convictions and prison terms based upon possession of water or other non-drug media.  On the other hand, the Prohibitionists really shot themselves in the foot on this one.  The Minnesota Bong Water case has helped undermine what public confidence there was in criminal drug laws and their enforcement.  As stated in the dissent in the Peck case:

“The majority’s decision to permit bong water to be used to support a first-degree felony controlled-substance charge runs counter to the legislative structure of our drug laws, does not make common sense, and borders on the absurd…the result is a decision that has the potential to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

To the extent the public confidence in our criminal justice system is undermined by Peck, the Minnesota Bong Water Case, and its literal interpretation of the statutory definition of a drug; this may hasten the day when common sense will finally prevail, with the Repeal of all drug Prohibition laws in Minnesota.

Written by Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney.

Minnesota Court Waters Down Definition of Illegal Drugs: Toilet Water Now a Crime

Water Bong

Water Bong

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, has now ruled that Bong Water (water which had been used in a water pipe) was a “mixture” of “25 grams or more” supporting a criminal conviction for Controlled Substance crime in the first degree.  The crime is the most serious felony drug crime in Minnesota, with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for a first offense.  The case is Minnesota v  Peck, A08-579, Minnesota Supreme Court, October 22, 2009.

The majority opinion takes an absurd literal view, arguing in essence that any amount of a substance dissolved in water makes that water a “mixture” containing that substance.  Perhaps.  But, since Minnesota’s criminal prohibition laws are organized to make greater quantities of drug possession a more serious crime than smaller quantities, such a simple-minded view defeats the purpose of the quantity-based severity levels.

If a person possessed one-tenth of a gram of methamphetamine, they could be charged with a Controlled Substance Fifth Degree crime, with a five-year maximum.  But – dissolve the one-tenth of a gram in 26 grams of water, on purpose or by accident, and now under this new decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court, that can be prosecuted as Controlled Substance First Degree – with a 30-year prison term.  Just add water for five times the sentence!  In the case of marijuana, a non-criminal amount under 42.5 grams smoked through a bong could give the police and government lawyers the legal right to charge a felony drug crime with possible prison time – not for the marijuana, but for the bong water. This defeats the legislative purpose of treating larger quantities of drugs more harshly.  Worse – it makes no sense.  It is irrational.  It leads to an absurd result.

What is a bong?  It is a water pipe.  A water pipe, such as a bong, can be used to smoke tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine (as in the Peck case), or anything that can be smoked.  Smokers view the water which has been used to filter and cool the smoke as something disgusting, not unlike a used cigarette filter, to be discarded – sooner or later.  The used water is not commonly used for any other purpose.  Apparently a naive or misguided police officer testified otherwise in the Peck case, and – amazingly -the four in the majority of the court appears to have given that testimony credit.

In general, courts have made efforts to prevent police and government lawyers from having the ability to manipulate the facts or evidence in such a way as to either create criminal liability for targeted people, or, to increase the penalty the target might suffer.  Here is an instance to the contrary.

If the government wants to charge a more serious drug crime – what to do?  Just add water!  (Water is heavy – heavier than drugs.  Drug crimes are based on weight.  Water is not currently defined by law as an illegal drug.)

Frequent news reports remind us about the drugs in the rivers and most of our municipal water supplies (not concentrated enough to hurt us, we are reassured).  Type “in water supply” into your favorite internet search engine and you can read thousands of reports of scientific studies documenting this.

As a result, if you have water sourced from a river, like we do in Minneapolis, then you could now be charged with a Minnesota Controlled Substance First Degree Crime (toilets tanks hold way more than 25 grams of water with illegal drugs dissolved).  This can be a particularly troubling variation of the trace-drug criminal case, where only a trace of suspected illegal drugs is found.  Trace cases can be problematic, in part because there may not be enough of the suspected material to be tested twice for its chemical identity. 

The widespread scientific reports of cocaine contamination (in trace amounts) on most United States currency, would be another example of “trace evidence of illegal drugs possession.”  Under the Peck case, we can have a situation of a trace amount of illegal substance “mixed” with water, which is heavy.  Or – we could have a relatively small amount (by weight) of illegal contraband mixed with a large amount of (heavy) water.

Even if you believe some drugs possession should be a crime – should one gram mixed in water be treated the same as one kilogram (1,000 grams) in powder form?

What can be done about this particular absurd injustice?

  1. Ask the legislature to repeal the criminal prohibition laws.
  2. Remember this case at election time.  Vote!  You can vote for or against Minnesota Supreme Court candidates, including incumbents.
  3.  Jury Nullification, or the rule of jury lenity.  Jurors have legal rights to acquit, despite the facts, despite the judges instructions on the law.  Just do it!
  4. Remove all water sourced from rivers from your home and office, including toilets, in the meantime.

At least the dissenting opinion, by Justice Paul H. Anderson, joined by Justice Alan C. Page, and Justice Helen M. Meyer, exhibits common sense.  Here is what Justice Paul Anderson wrote in dissent of the majority opinion:

“The majority’s decision to permit bong water to be used to support a first-degree felony controlled-substance charge runs counter to the legislative structure of our drug laws, does not make common sense, and borders on the absurd…the result is a decision that has the potential to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

It’s a good read (link at the beginning of this article, above).  It is shocking that four in the majority could have disagreed with the dissenters.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of the 100 year experiment in using criminal blame as a strategy to solve a public health problem.

It’s time to change the laws.  This absurdity makes it all too clear. Written by Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis Drug Lawyer