A bill offered by Sen. Juliane Ortman, R-Chanhassen, and Rep. Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, would recriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and increase penalties for possession of large amounts of marijuana and possession of marijuana plants. Minnesota decriminalized “small amounts” of marijuana in 1976, making the punishment for possession on par with a traffic violation.
Under HF1596 and SF1683, a “small amount” would mean 14 grams instead of 42.5 grams. Fourteen grams is the amount contained in a typical $20 bag of marijuana. More than 14 grams but less than 42.5 grams would constitute a misdemeanor crime under the new bill.
The bill lowers the threshold for felony marijuana possession. Possession of between 42.5 grams and 1 kilogram would be a fifth-degree drug crime of less than five years in prison. Current law says that threshold is 10 kilograms.
Under the bill, 1 kilogram or more would land you in prison for two to 30 years. The current law says 10 kilograms or more is the threshold for a third-degree drug felony.
This bill would also lower the threshold for a second-degree drug felony from 50 kilograms to 12.5 kilograms. That’s 25 years or less in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Twenty kilograms or more would be a first-degree drug felony punishable by four to 40 years and up to a $1 million fine. Currently that threshold is 100 kilograms.
The recriminalization of marijuana might be seen as a measure that would have law enforcement support, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s commissioner of public safety, Michael Campion, praised the current marijuana laws when he testified against medical marijuana.
“Some 20 years ago, I think this Legislature took a very balanced approach in terms of marijuana,” said Campion. “Most people probably don’t know, but a small amount of marijuana is not a crime. Anything under an ounce and a half is not a crime.”
The bill also adds a law prohibiting the possession of marijuana plants. The medical marijuana bill currently working its way through the Minnesota Legislature would allow patients to grow their own plants if they do not live in close proximity to a licensed nonprofit marijuana dispensary.