On August 1, 2016, the first major changes to Minnesota drug laws went into effect for the first time in nearly 30 years. The laws, which law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys approved, aimed to draw a finer line between drug addicts and pushers with better sentencing guidelines.
Drug offenders now face lighter or more severe penalties, depending on the crime involved. New guidelines stipulate revised penalties for prison time in some cases and drug rehabilitation programs in others.
Reasons for change
In addition to the desire to reduce drug crimes of all kinds, Minnesota prisons are overcrowded. In 2016, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission revised penalties for certain drug crimes so that offenders would either spend less time in prison or qualify for probation altogether. For example, sellers receive a prison term of more than five years, but in the case of a first offender charged with possession of drugs, a judge can recommend participation in a drug rehab or diversion program, and no jail time.
Minnesota statutes define a felony as a crime punishable by more than one year of imprisonment. The penalties for a misdemeanor include a sentence of up to 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000. A gross misdemeanor refers to any crime that is not a felony or misdemeanor. First offenses for drug possession now fall into the gross misdemeanor category with a maximum fine of $3,000.
Crackdown versus treatment
The updated Minnesota laws take a tougher stance on punishment for drug dealers, which garners approval from police officers who welcome the change. For low-level offenders who are charged with possession of drugs for the first time, a recommendation for drug treatment participation in lieu of jail time will help with the prison overcrowding problem while steering the offender onto a path that will hopefully be a positive, life-changing experience.