Minnesota NORML supports the forward looking cannabis legalization legislation, currently before the Minnesota House & Senate. It represents a step in the right direction. But the Minnesota legislature could improve it. Here, we discuss three key areas that should be fixed now.
These three issues are necessary for cannabis legalization legislation to:
- Make legal sources more convenient and affordable than the illegal market; and
- Repair damage done over the past 90 years of criminal marijuana Prohibition to Communities of Color.
1. Criminal Possession: Ending the Illegal Economy
The harms of prohibition overshadow any harms of the cannabis plant. So no criminal penalties should attach to mere possession in cannabis legalization legislation. But the current Bills in the Minnesota legislature preserve criminal penalties for possession over various weight thresholds. And these must be removed in conference committee to avoid prohibition lite.
Key issue: no criminal penalties for possession, since none exist for beer & wine.
The is no criminal penalty for possession of truck loads of beer, or of wine. Even that suggestion would puzzle most today. So why a criminal penalty for possessing “too much” marijuana? Prohibitionists retort, “to stop the illegal economy – diversion.” But the reality is that the only thing that can end criminal Prohibition, is ending criminal Prohibition. Criminal penalties will not stop diversion or the illegal economy. Criminal penalties will keep the illegal economy afloat, as in other states.
Minnesota should not have any criminal limits on possession. And any criminal quantity limits accepted as a compromise in cannabis legalization legislation, should be large; given that we have no criminal penalties for possession of any quantity of beer or wine.
2. Home Grow: Privacy Right in Your Own Home
Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. Limits on personal production of cannabis at home should be no more limiting than making beer at home. A plant count-maturity formula is unwieldy and likely to be misapplied, whereas a square footage limit for homegrow is easy to measure and apply. We endorse 120 ft2 as a reasonable limit in Minnesota cannabis legalization legislation. In Minnesota, home brewers can lawfully produce 100 gallons per year in their home. Since beer weighs about the same as water, 8.34 lb. per gallon; that would equate to a home grow limit of 834 pounds per year (69.5 pounds per month).
Key issue for home grow: right to privacy in your home.
The Alaska Supreme Court said it well in Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (Alaska 1975):
“the federal right to privacy arises only in connection with other fundamental rights, such as the grouping of rights which involve the home. And even in connection with the penumbra of home related rights, the right of privacy in the sense of immunity from prosecution is absolute only when the private activity will not endanger or harm the general public.”
People have a fundamental right to privacy in their home. Government intrusion upon a person’s rights must be justified by the government, not the other way around. Just as the risk of death during a traffic stop should not be justified for trivial reasons such as a taillight out; a home invasion by armed police should not be justified by “marijuana growing in the home.”
Opponents claim that home grow risks diversion to the illegal economy is misguided. In reality, home grow reduces the need to go to the illegal economy. And home grow provides an affordable alternative to an overtaxed and overregulated legal market. This is more fair to lower income people. And it incentivizes the government to reduce taxation and regulation of the legal market. This all has the effect of diminishing the illegal economy. Criminal penalties have been, and will most certainly continue to be disproportionately enforced against People of Color. They should be eliminated in cannabis legalization legislation, or as close to that as possible.
3. Repairing disproportionate impact of Prohibition
We applaud the social equity efforts in the proposed legislation. But we want the people disproportionately harmed by the War On Drugs to be compensated for its harms. Make it clear in cannabis legalization legislation, that the primary mission for the new oversight boards is to repair the harms of cannabis prohibition.