The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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January 29, 2014

State should move forward on pot law

I applaud The Free Press’ efforts to inform our community about potential changes in the marijuana laws. However, I beg to differ in the analysis.

In 1976, Minnesota decriminalized marijuana. It was one of the first states to do so. History shows that the laws changed in response to the draconian laws that we had on the books.

When legislators’ sons started going to prison for five years for smoking a joint, people started to take notice. Mankato’s own Harvard-educated lawyer, James Manahan, helped with changing the law.

As a result, and in conformity with federal law, we continue to recognize marijuana as a controlled substance. However, we treat it as a petty misdemeanor if there is less than an ounce and a half, or less than 1.4 grams in a motor vehicle. A petty misdemeanor is defined, under the law, as “not a crime.”

As such, our marijuana laws have decriminalized possession in many cases. Ironically, in Minnesota, you can legally distribute up to an ounce and half of marijuana, so long as there is “no remuneration.”

As a lawyer practicing criminal defense for the last 33 years, I have come to understand the wisdom that the state of Minnesota has demonstrated by decriminalizing marijuana.

We have saved untold millions of dollars in criminal defense, prosecution, police, witness, court, and prison fees. Minnesota has been at the forefront of showing the nation that decriminalization actually works.

The question is whether we want to recognize marijuana on one of two different levels: To permit its use for medical purposes only, or to remove all penalties connected with its possession and sale.

The reason that the police appreciate marijuana laws is for the same reason that many find it offensive — the stuff stinks. It stinks so much, that cops can easily smell it in a car. That means, if they pull you over for a traffic ticket, and they smell marijuana, they can broaden the scope of their investigation by searching the car, and much of its contents.

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