A man prepares a marijuana joint in Tompkins Square Park in New York, Dec. 12, 2015. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)
Minneapolis’ penalties for small-scale marijuana possession would be brought in line with state statute under a City Council proposal to be unveiled Friday.
The change would eliminate a discrepancy between city ordinance, which classifies possession of a small amount of marijuana as a misdemeanor, and state statute, where it is a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors are technically not a "crime" under state statute, and the punishment cannot exceed $300.
The practical impact will likely be limited, however, since city attorney Susan Segal said police officers typically cite the state statute. “To my knowledge, at least while I’ve been here, it’s never been charged under the city ordinance,” Segal said.
The change is being authored by council members Andrew Johnson and Jacob Frey.
“It’s ridiculous that anybody could be arrested for possessing a joint in our city,” Johnson said. “Nobody should have to face that risk.”
Frey said pot possession cases are generally charged under the state statute, but this eliminates the option of a higher charge.
"It reduces discretion," Frey said. "And negative permanent marks on a record should be reserved for offenses that are injurious to society."
Attorney Tom Gallagher, who is on the board of Minnesota NORML, said the Minneapolis Park Police -- a seperate entity from the city police -- charged one of his clients last year for misdemeanor marijuana possession under the city's ordinance.
The court ultimately convicted his client under the state statute instead. His client, a juvenile, was also convicted of misdemeanor drug paraphernalia possession.
“I find it disturbing that the city can charge marijuana as a more serious crime than the state,” Gallagher said.
Marcus Harcus, executive director of Minnesota NORML, said he was happy to hear about the proposal.
“I’m glad that they’re taking that step,” Harcus said. “It moves us closer toward full legalization, which is really the only solution to end prohibition.”
Harcus said they have also pushed the city to pass an initiative making marijuana possession a lowest law enforcement priority.