This week, the Justice Department issued a memo to federal agents that medical marijuana users and their legal suppliers should not be targeted for arrest or prosecution.
Medical marijuana has been legalized in thirteen states, but because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, marijuana users can still be arrested and prosecuted for possession. The Bush administration held the position that all marijuana users, medical marijuana patients or not, are breaking the law, and should be prosecuted. Now the Obama administration appears to think that targeting state-approved medical marijuana patients is a waste of time and resources, with the Justice Department memo advising federal prosecutors that they "should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana".
Medical marijuana isn't legal in Minnesota...yet. But the new ruling from the feds might encourage lawmakers in Minnesota to make it so. One of the main arguments against legalizing medical marijuana is a reluctance to pass state laws that contradict federal ones, and the ensuing problems for law enforcement.
A bill has been introduced to the State Legislature nine times since 1999. The latest attempt to legalize the drug was a bi-partisan bill to legalize medical marijuana, which was approved by several House and Senate committees in the last legislative session before being vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty in May 2009. Pawlenty opposed the bill as he belives that legalizing marijuana would increase drug problems and crime, and that marijuana poses "serious public safety and health risks."
Is there any chance for legal medical marijuana in Minnesota? Tim Pawlenty has said that he won't be running for re-election as Governor in 2010, so after that, one way is a possible constitutional amendment, which could be in 2010. Or, another bill could be introduced in 2011.
So for now, marijuana remains illegal in Minnesota. What are marijuana laws in Minnesota?
The current law makes possession of up to 42.5g, the equivalent of 1.5oz of marijuana, a misdemeanor punishable with a fine up to $200 and possible drug education classes. Possession of larger amounts, and selling any quantity of marijuana, are felonies with jail time and fines dependent on the amount of the drug.
Carrying marijuana in a car is considered a more serious offense, with possession of just 1.5g or more a felony carrying possible jail time and fines. Driving under the influence of marijuana or any controlled drug is also illegal and may result in driver's license suspension.
Minnesota is also one of about half of the states which tax marijuana and require marijuana packets to have a stamp confirming that taxes have been paid. In reality - and unsurprisingly - most do not, but the state of Minnesota did collect $11,000 in marijuana taxes in 2004 from fewer than twenty taxpayers. The tax rate for marijuana is $3.50 for each gram, or portion of a gram.
The point of taxing an illegal substance means that selling marijuana without stamps showing the tax has been paid is tax evasion. In Minnesota, someone arrested for marijuana possesion who has failed to comply with the tax laws can also face additional penalties for tax evasion of up to $14,000 and seven years in prison. Usually, these penalties are reserved for dealers rather than the average recreational user.
Medical marijuana is supported by a majority of Minnesotans, around 64% according to a 2008 poll conducted for KSTP-TV. What do you think? Do you side with Tim Pawlenty? or do you believe that Minnesotans with chronic health conditions should be allowed to benefit from medical marijuana?
Marijuana Leaves. Photo United States Fish and Wildlife Service