Well, at least Ben Hallgren isn’t going to jail for using his medicine.
But the 23-year-old is certainly caught in the vortex of America’s changing drug laws. A few months ago Hallgren was living in Colorado and working as a technician at a ski resort. Today he’s living with his mom near Duluth, jobless, in legal limbo and not sure whether he can go back home.
I first wrote about Hallgren in November. He was on his way from Colorado to northern Minnesota to spend time with his dying father when he was stopped by a law enforcement officer in Jackson County. Hallgren’s headlight was out, and the officer noticed drug paraphernalia inside the car.
Hallgren readily surrendered the “bong,” along with just under two pounds of marijuana in both plant and edible form. Hallgren suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and has a physician’s certificate to use marijuana to ease sometimes acute symptoms of his condition.
Of course, that does no good in Minnesota, where medical use of pot will be eased in the next year.
Hallgren was arrested, jailed for a couple of days and charged with felony possession of an illegal substance. Tempted by a plea bargain that would allow him to remain out of jail, Hallgren recently agreed to a deal that would put him on probation for three to five years and allow his record to be expunged if he stayed out of trouble.
Now Hallgren, who had no criminal record before the pot bust, is remorseful that he took the deal because he’s realized it will impede his life for several years.
“I can’t vote or travel for three to five years,” he said. “I can’t believe what has happened to me because I was a medical patient.”
Hallgren told his lawyer Monday to try to revoke his plea because he’s caught in a series of Catch-22s.
The court deemed Hallgren was not a Minnesota resident and does not have a condition that qualifies under the new medical marijuana law that takes effect July 1, so he can’t use his medical marijuana in Minnesota.
But because Hallgren moved out of his house in Colorado to stay with his dad, and lost his job because of the arrest, his probation specifies he must not travel outside Minnesota even though he has a Colorado driver’s license. He has filed a request to move his probation to Colorado, but it could take anywhere from weeks to months and they could reject him, he said.
“So, I’m looking for a job in Minnesota and looking for a job in Colorado in case they make a decision,” Hallgren said. “If I get denied a transfer, it might be more likely to rescind the plea bargain.”
Hallgren’s attorney has said the state previously took the position that there is no evidence that marijuana has medicinal value, but that changed when the Legislature passed a limited medical marijuana law last session.
There are numerous studies, most relying on anecdotal reports, that people with IBS say using marijuana reduces bowel inflammation and acid reflux. It is among the conditions approved for medical marijuana in states where the law is more expansive.
Hallgren seems to have run into a stretch of rotten luck and circumstances. One of his roommates in Colorado killed himself before Hallgren left for Minnesota. Then he got arrested. His father died on Aug. 17, not knowing if his son was headed for prison or not.
If Hallgren pulls out of the plea deal and goes back to court, he could lose and go to jail. Further muddling the case is the fact the prosecutor and judge who were involved in it have retired.
“I knew I was pleading to a felony,” Hallgren said. “I didn’t have a lot of time to make up my mind and I didn’t want to go to jail. It’s a shame. I just want to get my life back to normal.”