In Minnesota, general drug offenses are often the most common crimes charged and processed through our court system. The Minnesota Legislature recently enacted new statutes regarding the drug offenses, decreasing penalties for low level offenses, and increasing penalties for more serious convictions.
Drug charges are fact specific and can depend on the type of drug sold or possessed, the amount sold or possessed, and the number of times an individual has been convicted of a similar offense. All of these factors are taken into consideration when a drug offense is charged. The most common offenses are possession and sale of a controlled substance. For example, an individual may be charged with the sale of drugs if she engages in the act of moving or transporting drugs for money, services, or other goods. Likewise, an individual may be charged with drug possession if the person merely is holding a controlled substance, or if a controlled substance in within the person’s immediate control.
Degrees of Drug Sales and Possession
In Minnesota, there are five different degrees of sales and possession charges ranging from serious felonies to gross misdemeanor charges. The degree of the charge is determined by the amount and “schedule” of the drugs involved. Schedule I drugs are those drugs that are most dangerous and addictive. These drugs are classified as controlled substances, or drugs whose manufacture or possession is regulated by the government. Among the list of Schedule I drugs are cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, amphetamine, and marijuana. On the other hand, Schedule V drugs are considered to be the least dangerous and addictive, and often have medical uses.
Recently, the Minnesota State Legislature enacted legislation that altered criminal drug laws. The new laws were designed to differentiate drug addicts from drug dealers. Unlike the old laws, the new laws are intended to be less punitive towards addicts, and instead provide many new rehabilitative sentences. For example, the Legislature increased the minimum quantity thresholds for First, Second, and Third Degree offenses that involve either cocaine or methamphetamine. In contrast, it lowered the minimum quantity threshold for First and Second Degree offenses that involve marijuana. (See chart below).
Penalties for Drug Sales and Possession
Because of the changes enacted by the Minnesota Legislature, first time offenders for low-level (fifth-degree) crimes now face Gross-Misdemeanor charges. In other words, the maximum penalty, if convicted, is one year in a county jail and a $3,000 fine. However, these types of crimes are “inhanceable,” meaning that a second offense will carry more severe penalties. Repeat offenders may still face felony charges, and if convicted, multiple years in jail. Some useful facts about the penalties include:
maximum of 30 years in prison and/or $1,000,000 in fines
maximum of 25 years in prison and/or $500,000 in fines
maximum of 20 years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines
maximum of 15 years in prison and/or $100,000 in fines
maximum of 5 years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines
**First time Offenders Charged with a Gross Misdemeanor
maximum of one year in jail and/or $3,000 in fines
If an individual is charged with a controlled substance crime and is suffering from addiction, an alternative to incarceration and/or regular probation may be participation in a treatment court. Such example is Drug Court, where the court works closely with prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers, and other resources within the county, in order to encourage an offender to complete a treatment program and abstain from future drug use.