Minnesota’s 2023 marijuana reform legislation, decriminalized possession of small amounts. See: Minnesota marijuana laws. But the quarter gram law is still important for other illegal drugs.
Quarter gram “controlled substance” threshold
Quarter gram “controlled substance:” The Minnesota Legislature made some changes to Minnesota “Controlled Substance” laws, effective August 1, 2016. One change created a Gross Misdemeanor for some “controlled substance” possession, for less than 0.25 grams or one dosage unit.
Limited to first-timers: This law only applies to a person “not … previously convicted of a violation of this chapter …” And the law applies to all “controlled substances” other than heroin. But otherwise, the Fifth Degree charge is still a felony.
Before this 2016 law, prosecutors could charge even these amounts of “controlled substances” as a felony. A felony drug conviction can trigger lost jobs, lost of civil rights, immigration consequences. So the law baby-steps in the right direction.
The statutory language
“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 …”Minn. Stat. §152.025, Subd. 4 (a)(1)
Does this mean defense lawyers will no longer need to litigate trace amount issues and cases?
No. Gross Misdemeanor is still a serious crime. Also, this new law does not apply to heroin or federal cases.
When can a prosecutor charge quantity in dosage units, rather than weight? The statute says: “or one dosage unit or less if the controlled substance was possessed in dosage units … .” Minn. Stat. §152.025, Subd. 4 (a)(1). So instead of the less than quarter gram threshold, we have a one dosage unit threshold, for a Gross Misdemeanor (instead of a felony, for more).
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.
But for underground-economy drugs, “one dosage unit” could be more than one pill; or more than one square of LSD blotter paper. 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”).
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 people facing charges of Minnesota Fifth Degree “Controlled Substance” Crime, Gross Misdemeanor, e.g., under quarter gram cases. But this is for Fifth Degree charges, and only for a person without prior drug convictions.
Defending people from quarter gram charges
Thomas Gallagher is a Minnesota Drug Defense Lawyer; since 1988.
He defends victims of Minnesota’s marijuana Prohibition laws.
And he also serves on the Board of Directors of Minnesota NORML since 2011.