Minnesota lawmakers approved medical marijuana in 2014, making it the 23rd state to do so. Medicinal cannabis will be legal and available to patients by late 2015.
Yet despite that fact, a Colorado patient faces felony charges after he was caught with medical weed while on his way to visit his ailing father in Northern Minnesota. Benjamin Russell Hallgren, 23, has been charged with felony drug possession and misdemeanor paraphernalia possession.
Police say they caught Hallgren with nearly two pounds of marijuana, felony weight in the state. But prosecutors are leaning heavily on laws that allow them to count the entire weight of pot-infused food, including sugar, flour, and other ingredients. Hallgren was allegedly carrying several THC chocolate bars.
Judge did not dismiss charges
Hallgren’s attorney failed to convince a judge to dismiss the charges, but he said he would make a constitutional argument at trial. The state constitution protects the doctor-patient relationship, attorney Allen P. Eskens said.
“Prior to (2014), the argument could be made that marijuana was considered a recreational drug that should be controlled,” Eskens said. “But since the state of Minnesota has now recognized the medical merits of marijuana, the control of it should not interfere with that relationship.”
The Minnesota Legislature approved medical cannabis in May. The law they passed bans smokeable forms of the drug but allow vaporizers, tinctures, and THC pills. The list of covered conditions is extremely restrictive.
Police stopped Hallgren in Southern Minnesota while he was driving to visit his dying father in the northern part of the state. He was arrested and charged in Jackson County.
Initially Hallgren was charged with a felony count of fifth-degree possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor count of failure to provide proof of insurance, and a petty misdemeanor charge of paraphernalia possession. The insurance charge was dismissed.
Hallgren to face trial
But county Judge David W. Peterson declined to dismiss the other charges, scheduling Hallgren for trial. Hallgren has a medical marijuana card from Colorado, but Petersom said Hallgren was carrying too much weed.
Eskens is disputing that claim, pointing out that Hallgren’s physician recommendation allows him one oral dose of MMJ each week. It doesn’t specify what constitutes a dose, however, and it doesn’t require that a “dose” be taken all at once.
Peterson ruled that the alleged weight was greater than any reasonable person would consider a single dose. The judge also said Hallgren’s card wouldn’t protect him in Minnesota, since medical pot isn’t yet legal and the state has no reciprocity program with other MMJ states.
“Minnesota’s purpose in regulating potentially harmful substances, especially those with potential for abuse, justifies the effect of limiting access, including prohibiting access, to those substances in Minnesota unless the proper procedures are followed,” Peterson wrote in his ruling.
Facing a skeptical judge, Hallren’s best hopes may lie with a jury. Jurors may loathe to punish someone for violating a law that’s on its way to the trash heap of history.