Minnesota and marijuanaThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 23: Minnesota.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Criminal penalties. Minnesota punishes the possession of less than 42.5 grams of marijuana with a maximum fine of $200. A person possessing this amount does not face jail time, but may be required to attend a drug education course. The penalties for possession escalate rather quickly. Minnesota punishes possession as follows:

  • 42.5 grams to 10 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. Subsequent offenses earn 6 months to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000.
  • 10-50 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Subsequent offenses earn 2-30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
  • 50-100 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. Subsequent offenses earn 3-40 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.
  • Over 100 kilograms earns a maximum 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000,000. Subsequent offenses earn 4-40 years in prison and another maximum fine of $1,000,000.

The sale of marijuana in Minnesota can earn even harsher penalties. However, distributing 42.5 grams or less of cannabis, not in exchange for payment, does not warrant jail time, but it can require the person convicted to attend a mandatory drug education course and pay a $200 fine. Other marijuana-sale offenses are classified as follows:

  • 42.5 grams to 5 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Subsequent offenses earn 6 months to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000.
  • 5-25 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Subsequent offenses earn 2-30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
  • 25-50 kilograms earns a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. Subsequent offenses earn 3-40 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000.
  • Over 50 kilograms earns a maximum 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000,000. Subsequent offenses earn 4-40 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.

The sale of any amount of cannabis to a minor can subject the seller to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Medical marijuana. In 2014, Minnesota legalized medical marijuana. Though we were initially impressed with how quickly the state implemented a legal medical marijuana program, its program remains fairly limited. Minnesota patients are eligible to receive medical marijuana after a licensed health care practitioner certifies that the patient has one or more of the qualifying conditions. Qualifying conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizures, severe muscle spasms, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and terminal illness that causes severe or chronic pain, nausea, or cachexia. The Minnesota Department of Health (DOH) may add conditions to this list. After certification for cannabis, the cannabis patient must register with the state of Minnesota to be able to legally obtain marijuana. Like New York, Minnesota does not allow its patients marijuana in “smokeable” form, so patients are limited to liquid, pills, vapors, and other methods that do not require smoking.

Minnesota’s medical program has been in existence for about one year and has met with mostly mixed reviews, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio. Recently, “intractable pain” was added to the list of qualifying conditions. Additionally, the state recently opened doors to eight cannabis patient centers. Thought these changes mark progress for Minnesota’s medical marijuana community, many Minnesota patients needing cannabis are forced to continue purchasing their medical marijuana illegally due to the high cost of state-sanctioned medical marijuana. Patients are also concerned that smokeable marijuana is not legal, as many believe it to be the most effective method of ingestion.

Bottomline. Minnesota has made it to the “good” half of our state cannabis rankings because it has decriminalized small amounts of cannabis, quickly enacted a medical marijuana program, and taken steps to improve that medical program. However, because Minnesota still has severe criminal penalties for possessing or selling larger amounts of marijuana, it ranks at 23 and not higher. Minnesota has recently been in the center of national news because of the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN. This has sparked a national debate over the use of racial profiling by police officers, prompting Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton to opine that Mr. Castile would not have been shot had he been white. A 2014 study, reported on by the Duluth Times, suggests that racial profiling also plays a role in Minnesota marijuana arrests. The study found that “black Minnesotans were 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana than whites.” When you couple this number with the harsh criminal penalties Minnesota dishes out for cannabis you can see how Minnesota’s African-American communities are disproportionally impacted. For the land of 10,000 lakes to improve on its ranking, it must legalize cannabis entirely.