Card authorizing pot use in California irrelevant in Minnesota, court rules

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 27, 2014 - 9:51 PM

Appeals court rules California card for pot irrelevant in Minnesota.

A card that permits a person to use medical marijuana in another state can’t make drug charges in Minnesota go up in smoke, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

In December 2011, Jeffrey Thiel was stopped by a state trooper in Itasca County for speeding. After the trooper smelled marijuana, two Mason jars containing the drug were found in his vehicle. Thiel was charged with fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Before his trial in Itasca County District Court, Thiel tried to have the drug evidence suppressed on the grounds that the search was unreasonable and unconstitutional.

Thiel, now 31, also argued that he had a right to introduce as evidence his medical marijuana card from California, which permitted him to possess and use the drug for a medical purpose. That card allowed him to grow 99 plants and to possess 19 pounds of processed marijuana yearly to control chronic pain from injuries and surgeries.

But the prosecution argued that the card was irrelevant and would confuse the jury.

The District Court ruled the card irrelevant and inadmissible. Thiel was found guilty, and court records show he has spent six months in jail in connection to the case.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that Minnesota didn’t allow marijuana for medical use at the time of Thiel’s arrest and ruled that Minnesota need not incorporate California’s decision to permit medical use. A defense based on medical necessity isn’t available in Minnesota for a defendant charged with a controlled-substance crime, the court said.

“Although [Thiel’s] testimony may have helped explain his conduct to a jury, it would have not excused his conduct, and also would have served to confuse and mislead the jury,” the court wrote.

No link to new law

As the case played out, the Legislature passed a law this year allowing limited medical use of marijuana. The law, which Gov. Mark Dayton plans to sign this week, allows access to the drug for about 5,000 Minnesotans with conditions that include cancer, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS.

With a health care provider’s permission, those patients will enroll in a patient registry that will allow the state Department of Health to monitor their progress. The drug will be available only in pill or oil forms, with smoking not allowed and access to the drug in its plant form forbidden.

Thiel, whose most current driver’s license lists the north metro city of St. Francis as his address, has several convictions in Minnesota, including minor drug and driving offenses. No information was available Tuesday on when he lived in California and under what circumstances he obtained the card.

Pot hidden in vehicle

In the December 2011 case, the trooper detected a “strong” and “overwhelming” odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Thiel denied that he had any drugs in his vehicle and passed a field sobriety test. After running a driver’s license check, the trooper learned that Thiel had been stopped several months earlier and that the officer involved in that stop had also noticed a strong smell of marijuana.

The trooper called for a canine sniffing team. Two jars with marijuana were found under the hood and in the door seam on the driver’s side.

The Appeals Court ruled that the search was reasonable, and that law enforcement acted diligently and reasonably in investigating the situation and conducting the search. It also said that the District Court didn’t abuse its discretion by excluding Thiel’s testimony about his California card.

 

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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