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.
This is where elements of discrimination come in, because, as The Free Press has so succinctly pointed out, the application of marijuana laws is by far greater against minorities than it is for the white population.
If we wish to allow our liberties to be infringed by the smell of marijuana, then we must continue to support the law that is presently enacted. I believe our community consciousness is growing beyond these present legal barriers.
However, let us focus on the real benefit of marijuana — medical.
As a practicing lawyer, I have come to know and understand that marijuana is probably one of the best medicines for many of my clients. I pose it this way: I have been to funerals for clients who have eaten bullets, who have died of alcoholism, and cigarette smoking. I have yet to attend a funeral for someone dying from pot. This is in spite of the fact that marijuana usage is at 12 percent across the board in Minnesota.
The biggest problem that some clients have is going off this very effective medicine while they are on probation. They must often get medicated by prescription with drugs that require frequent and costly medical supervision. People smoke marijuana because it works. It helps people survive. This is especially true for those suffering the effects of PTSD.
It is reported that 87 percent of our children believe that marijuana should be decriminalized permanently. Let us do so in a way that engenders support for the goals we wish to achieve.
In other words, if this is a tax generating prospect, then we should enact our laws to benefit the state’s seemingly ever-empty financial coffers.
In the words of George Washington, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!” And remember, the sails that brought Columbus to the New World were made of hemp. Nothing else was strong enough.
Calvin P. Johnson is a Mankato attorney.