Minnesota Drug Laws Overview

By Thomas C. Gallagher, Minneapolis drug lawyer
Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Drug Law Attorney
Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Drug Law Attorney

Drug laws in Minnesota include statutes  criminalizing possession and sale of some drugs.

A crime is intentional conduct, prohibited by statute, with a specific penalty.

Law enforcement officials have discretion whether, when or who to enforce the laws against

These statutes inevitably have gaps, ambiguities, or cross the line and violate the highest law – the Constitution.

So, the courts interpret the statutes, and their written decisions change and limit their effect.

Defense lawyers, judges, and juries are the last line of defense against immoral and corrupt criminal laws.

Controlled substance paradox?

The only truly “controlled” substances are the legal ones – tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications.

Teenagers have a difficult time obtaining these controlled substances, but little difficulty obtaining “prohibited” substances like marijuana.

In Holland where marijuana is legal, the marijuana usage rate is half of that in the United States where it is “illegal.”

Marijuana laws, other drug laws in Minnesota:

No crime unless written

Marijuana and drug crime cases prosecuted in Minnesota State Court, are normally based upon Minnesota Statutes (and rarely, local ordinances).

Marijuana is generally still a crime in Minnesota with notable exceptions, including medical marijuana and hemp.  Factors affecting severity of marijuana charges include sale, possession and growing.

Fair notice required

A basic principle of criminal law is notice.  A person is not accountable for violating a criminal law, unless first put on notice of what conduct is forbidden; written notice.

In drug laws, this has also meant long lists (Schedules) in the statutes of chemicals and substances described with enough particularity to put people on notice.

Of course this is a legal fiction – that people actually read statutes, and know what they contain.  Most people may not know what the statutes say.  Yet since they are available to the public, they at least could know.  In the information age, this is more true.

Minnesota Constitution, Statutes, Rules

Minnesota Statutes are available at the Minnesota Legislature’s website, along with administrative rules (“Minnesota Rules”) that govern executive branch state agencies, and the Minnesota Constitution.

Most drug laws are in Chapter 152 of Minnesota Statutes.

Statutes give special meanings to some words.   Sometimes statutes define words in a way vastly different from commonly understood meanings.

Many Sections of Minnesota Statutes contain definitions that apply to other statutory sections, for example Section 152.01.

Felony vs. misdemeanor drug laws

Minnesota Statutes define the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor offense.

No more drug war
No more drug war

Any crime with a maximum sentence of a year-and-a-day or more prison is a Minnesota felony.  A crime punishable by 91 to 365 days jail is a Minnesota gross misdemeanor.  If the maximum is 90 days jail, the crime is a misdemeanor.  A petty misdemeanor is “not a crime” but results in a public “conviction” record.

Most felony drug crimes are in Sections 152.021 through 152.025.  We call them “Controlled Substance crime in the __ degree,” first through fifth degrees.  First degree carries the most severe penalty.

An example of a Minnesota gross misdemeanor drug crime is possession of less than one-quarter gram marijuana wax, if the accused has no similar priors.

A petty misdemeanor example is possession of a small amount of (plant-form) marijuana (not in a motor vehicle).

What makes one drug crime more severe than another?

What factors make a felony crime more severe in terms of punishment if convicted?

  • Possession vs. sale
  • Identity of substance (i.e., cocaine vs. marijuana)
  • Quantity thresholds (i.e. “total weight of six grams or more containing cocaine)
  • Prior controlled substance convictions
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, usually based on prior “controlled substance” conviction(s)
  • State vs. federal court
Possession of a Controlled Substance in Minnesota

Crimes like possession of a controlled substance, felony possession of marijuana, and drug possession charges, are examples of “possession crimes.”

Possession can be actual possession, or so-called constructive” possession (based on circumstantial evidence).  At the other end of the spectrum, is federal drug trafficking.

Attorney Gallagher can help protect people swept up in large federal conspiracy investigations, including those with a minimal role or no role at all in the alleged “drug trafficking organization.”

Gallagher is a defense lawyer handling every type of Minnesota drug case – and has since 1988.

Less common Minnesota felony drug crimes:

Simulated Controlled Substances

Sale of a Simulated Controlled Substance, Minnesota Statutes Section 152.097, is a felony crime.


Possession or sale of Cathinone and Khat (or Qat) are now a crime.  See our Minnesota Khat Attorney page for a full explanation.

Collateral Consequences

“Collateral Consequences” of criminal cases are often worse than the narrowly defined direct consequences.  Direct consequences include prison, jail or fines and other typical conditions of a stayed prison or jail term.  Here are some collateral consequences related to criminalized-drug cases.

Drivers license consequences

Drivers license revocation, Minnesota Statutes §152.0271, if convicted of most drug crimes and if the sentencing court finds that the person unlawfully possessed or sold the “controlled” substance while driving; then the court can order the license revoked for 30 days.

Perhaps worse than this, is the notation that results on the driver’s license record, available to insurance companies, and police during traffic stops.

A Minnesota marijuana in a motor vehicle conviction, even if certified or treated as a petty misdemeanor, will trigger a driver’s license revocation of 30 days or more, and go on the Minnesota drivers license record.

Asset Forfeitures
Policing for Profit - Corvette 1965
Policing for Profit – Corvette 1965

Theft:  The asset forfeiture statutes associated with “controlled” substance “crimes” are in the part of the criminal code for “Theft and Related Crimes” (Minnesota Statutes §§609.52 – 609.552).

Appropriate, since many view asset forfeiture laws as “legalized theft” where the powerful few in government steal from the vulnerable many.

The fact that those enforcing the asset forfeiture laws keep most of the money underscores the corrupting influence.

Stealing from the poor:  The victims of asset forfeiture laws are disproportionately low-income people, living paycheck to paycheck, who tend not to use banks.

Legalized corruption?

us v dougherty 1972 quote jury rightsConflict of Interest:  Here are the drug laws that give government agencies, prosecutors and police a large financial incentive to allocate resources towards taking vulnerable assets, rather than reducing violent crime: Minnesota Statutes §609.5315 et seq.

They get to keep most of the money from property they seize, then auction off; or drive and use the “seized” vehicles.

Instrumentality vs. proceeds of criminal activity

Minnesota Statutes §609.5311 is specific to property associated with controlled substances.  It includes an “instrumentality” basis for asset forfeitures.  It also includes certain defenses and limitations on the scope of what the government can take.

Administrative vs. judicial forfeitures

Government forfeiture actions are generally of two types in Minnesota courts, administrative or judicial.

A judicial forfeiture begins like any other court case.   The  party seeking the legal remedy has the burden of asking for it, in a Complaint.  The government files the Complaint with the court, after notice to the property’s owner.  The case then proceeds like other “civil” cases.  See Minnesota Statutes §609.5313.

The other type is administrative forfeiture.”  Almost all forfeiture cases today are administrative forfeitures.

“Administrative” because the statutes give power to executive branch, law enforcement agencies to take your assets under specific conditions, with just a slip of paper giving you “notice.”  After that, the law shifts the burden to you, the property owner to seek protection from the court.

Short deadline:  The deadline for action by the property owner is short.  It’s just 60 days to prepare legal pleadings,serve and file them with the court.  That gives advantages to the government; places heavy burdens on the citizen.

For more on Minnesota forfeiture laws and defense, see our Minnesota Drug Forfeiture Attorney page.

Statutes sometimes attempt to define “black” as being white, and vice versa.

No victim, no crime

Whatever direct harm drug abuse causes, the only real victim of that drug abuse is the abuser himself or herself.  Any other harms are indirect.  Indirect harms could justify any destruction of liberty.

If governments have in recent times,  made a crime out of a substance like alcohol or marijuana, then at least these are victimless “crimes.”

If you are not free to choose what to do with yourself when it doesn’t directly hurt anyone else, are you a free person?

We can defend individual, human rights against the abuse of state power.  Drug prohibition laws seem have one common theme — government empowerment to destroy individual rights.  Reason and rationality are lacking in these laws.

Statutes label non-violent crimes as violent crimes

The statutory definition of “Violent crime” in Minnesota Statues §609.1095, says “a violation of … any provision of chapter 152 (drugs, controlled substances) punishable by a maximum sentence of 15 years or more.”

And, on firearms, Minnesota Statutes §624.712, subd. 5, defines “Crime of violence” to include felony convictions of “chapter 152 (drugs, controlled substances).”  See this page for more on civil rights to firearms after a felony conviction.

Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer
Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer

Question?  You can call Minneapolis Drugs Crime Defense Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500

Minnesota Statutes call drug “crimes” violent, therefore the laws treat people convicted of these “crimes” as if they are violent criminals.

But drug crimes are not, in fact, violent.

How is possessing two ounces of marijuana grown in your basement “violent?”

Other so-called collateral consequences of criminal drug laws:
  • Civil rights, lifetime loss
  • Housing, reduced availability
  • Employment, loss and reduction of employment opportunities
  • Professional and Occupational Licenses
  • Annual Income Reduction, as a result
  • Parenting rights, family integrity
  • Student Financial Aid denial, due to federal statutes
  • Health Insurance, premium increases or denials
  • Travel restrictions
  • Criminal Records, publicly available