A legal guide, by Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis drug lawyer
Drug laws in Minnesota include statutes criminalizing possession and sale of some drugs.
And a crime is intentional conduct, prohibited by statute, with a specific penalty. But law enforcement officials have discretion whether, when or who to enforce the laws against.
Moreover, these statutes inevitably have gaps, and ambiguities. Or they cross the line, and violate the highest law: the Constitution. So, the courts interpret the statutes. And judges’ written decisions change and limit their effect.
But in the end, defense lawyers, judges, and juries are the last line of defense against immoral or corrupt criminal laws.
Controlled substance paradox?
The only truly “controlled” substances are legal. So, we can effectively regulate legal tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications.
As a result, teenagers have a difficult time obtaining these legally controlled substances. But they have little difficulty obtaining “prohibited” substances like marijuana.
Marijuana laws, other drug laws in Minnesota:
No crime unless written
Marijuana and drug crimes prosecuted in Minnesota State Court, are normally based upon Minnesota Statutes (and rarely, local ordinances).
Factors affecting severity of marijuana charges include:
- possession, and
Fair notice required
A basic principle of criminal law is notice. So a person is not accountable for violating a criminal law; unless first put on fair notice of which conduct is forbidden. And statutes give written notice.
In drug laws, this has also meant long lists (or “Schedules”) of chemicals and substances described with enough particularity to put people on fair notice.
But, of course, this is a legal fiction; that people actually read statutes, and know what they contain. Most people do not know what the statutes say.
Yet since they are publicly available, they could know. But this theory fades with the complexity and crushing volume of criminal laws; and their discriminatory enforcement.
Minnesota Constitution, Statutes, Rules
Minnesota Statutes are available at the Minnesota Legislature’s website. And so are the administrative rules (“Minnesota Rules”) that govern executive branch state agencies. The Minnesota Constitution is there too.
Most drug laws are in Chapter 152 of Minnesota Statutes.
Statutes give special meanings to some words. And sometimes statutes define words in a way inconsistent with common meanings.
Many Sections of Minnesota Statutes contain definitions that apply to other statutory sections; for example Section 152.01.
Felony vs. misdemeanor drug laws
Minnesota Statutes define crime severity levels.
So they define the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor offense.
Any crime with a maximum sentence of a year or more prison is a Minnesota felony.
A crime punishable by 91 to 364 days jail is a Minnesota gross misdemeanor.
If the maximum is 90 days jail, the crime is a misdemeanor.
A petty misdemeanor is “not a crime” but results in a public “conviction” record.
Most felony drug crimes are in Sections 152.021 through 152.025. We call them “Controlled Substance crime in the __ degree,“ first through fifth degrees. And First degree carries the most severe penalty.
A petty misdemeanor example is possession of a small amount of (plant-form) marijuana (not in a motor vehicle).
What makes a drug crime more severe, in Minnesota drug laws?
What factors make a felony crime more severe in terms of punishment if convicted?
- Possession vs. sale
- Identity of substance (i.e., cocaine vs. marijuana)
- Quantity thresholds (i.e. “total weight of six grams or more containing cocaine)
- Prior controlled substance convictions
- Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, usually based on prior “controlled substance” conviction(s)
- State vs. federal court
Possession of a Controlled Substance in Minnesota
Crimes like possession of a controlled substance, and felony possession of marijuana, are examples of “possession crimes.”
Possession can be actual possession; or so-called “constructive” possession (based on circumstantial evidence).
And at the other end of the spectrum, is federal drug trafficking.
But Attorney Thomas Gallagher can help protect people swept up in large federal conspiracy investigations. So, for example, he’s been able to help those with a minimal role in the alleged “drug trafficking organization.”
Thomas Gallagher is a defense lawyer handling every type of Minnesota drug case – and has since 1988.
Less common Minnesota felony drug crimes:
Simulated Controlled Substances
Sale of a Simulated Controlled Substance, Minnesota Statutes Section 152.097, is a felony crime.
Possession or sale of Cathinone and Khat (or Qat) are now a crime. See our Minnesota Khat Attorney page for a full explanation.
“Collateral Consequences” of criminal cases are often worse than the narrowly defined direct consequences.
Direct consequences include prison, jail or fines and other typical conditions of probation.
But criminal drug laws also cause many severe collateral consequences.
So here are some collateral consequences related to criminalized-drug cases.
Drivers license consequences
Drivers license revocation. Minnesota Statutes §152.0271: If the sentencing court finds that the person unlawfully possessed the “controlled” substance while driving; then the court can order the license revoked for 30 days.
But perhaps worse, the driver’s license record shows this. And the driver’s license record is available to insurance companies, and police during traffic stops.
But worse, a Minnesota marijuana in a motor vehicle conviction triggers a driver’s license revocation of 30 days or more; and goes on the Minnesota drivers license record. And it will, even if certified or treated as a petty misdemeanor.
Theft, by whom? The asset forfeiture laws for drug “crimes” are in the section for “Theft and Related Crimes.” (Minnesota Statutes §§609.52 – 609.552).
And this is appropriate; since asset forfeiture laws amount to “legalized theft” by police. So, the powerful government steals from the poor and vulnerable.
And the fact that those enforcing the asset forfeiture laws keep the money shows the corrupting influence.
Stealing from the poor: Asset forfeiture victims are mostly low-income people, living paycheck to paycheck, with no bank account.
Conflict of Interest: Minnesota drug laws give government agencies, prosecutors and police large financial incentives to take vulnerable assets; rather than reduce violent crime. Minnesota Statutes §609.5315 et seq.
They get to keep most of the money from property they seize, then auction off. Or police can drive and use the “seized” vehicles.
So, police agencies get to keep money that they seize from those they suspect of crimes!
Does policing for profit lead to injustice; and destruction of the lives of innocent people?
For more on Minnesota forfeiture laws and defense, see our Minnesota Drug Forfeiture Attorney page.
No victim, no crime
Whatever direct harm drug abuse causes, the only real victim of that drug abuse is the abuser himself or herself. And any other harms are indirect. But they use indirect harms to justify any destruction of liberty.
If governments invent a crime out of substances like alcohol or marijuana; then these are at least victimless.
But if you’re not free to choose when it doesn’t directly harm another; are you a free person?
We can defend individual, human rights against abuses of state power. But drug prohibition laws have one common theme — government empowerment to destroy individual rights. Reason and rationality are lacking in these drug laws.
Technicalities: Statutes label non-violent crimes as violent crimes
The statutory definition of “Violent crime” in Minnesota Statues §609.1095, includes:
“a violation of … any provision of chapter 152 (drugs, controlled substances) punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years or more.”
And, on firearms, Minnesota Statutes §624.712, subd. 5, defines “Crime of violence” to include felony convictions of “chapter 152 (drugs, controlled substances).”
So, see this page for more on civil rights to firearms after a felony conviction.
Minnesota Statutes call drug “crimes” violent. Therefore the laws treat people convicted of these “crimes” as if they are violent criminals.
But drug crimes are not, in fact, violent. So let’s continue our search for the Truth.
Is possessing two ounces of marijuana grown in your basement “violent?”
Other “collateral” consequences of criminal drug laws:
- Civil rights, lifetime loss
- Housing, reduced availability
- Employment, loss and reduction of employment opportunities
- Professional and Occupational Licenses
- Annual Income Reduction, as a result
- Parenting rights, family integrity
- Student Financial Aid denial, due to federal statutes
- Health Insurance, premium increases or denials
- Travel restrictions
- Criminal Records, publicly available
Attorney Thomas Gallagher can help
Minnesota’s drug laws represent a medieval public policy of moral blame. So they punish people suffering from a medical problem; even those who are not chemically dependent.
They unfairly discriminate against people who use less dangerous drugs. And yet people who use the most dangerous drug (alcohol) are not made criminals.
And these laws target the weak in our society in other ways.
But you can fight back. And you can defend yourself and your family. So bring in an expert drug laws defense attorney. Thomas Gallagher has the skills, experience and relentless effort required to level the playing field.
Question? You can call Minneapolis Drugs Crime Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500