Drug offenders in Minnesota will soon face lighter penalties if convicted, thanks to a compromise that was recently reached after lengthy deliberation between law enforcement officials, lawmakers and criminal defense attorneys. The state commission’s plan to offer more leniency in drug crime sentencing, particularly to first time offenders and those convicted of less serious charges, will be included in a bill that is now sitting before the Senate’s rules committee.
Under Minnesota’s current drug crime laws, ordinary drug offenders including those who are found with trace amounts, are typically treated like hardened criminals. They frequently spend years behind bars without being given the opportunity to focus on treatment options for their addiction. Under the new guidelines, however, offenders who are convicted of lesser-degree drug charges will face lighter penalties that could enable them to seek treatment.
A few highlights of the proposal include:
- Drug offenders who are convicted for the first time for the lowest degree of drug possession will now be guilty of gross misdemeanors instead of felonies.
- While the threshold for a charge of first degree possession of marijuana will be reduced from 100 kilograms to just 50 kilograms, the amount of harder drugs (methamphetamine or cocaine) required to trigger a first degree possession charge will be increased to 50 grams- up from 25. (Heroin possession would remain at 25 grams.)
- Sentences for drug dealers who possess or sell larger quantities of drugs, commonly referred to as “kingpin” dealers, would become mandatory, forcing those convicted to spend more time behind bars.
- Drug offenders who are found to be in possession of guns or acting on behalf of a gang will face harsher penalties.
- Mandatory sentences for those who are convicted of lesser degree drug crimes would be eliminated, allowing judges to order probation or send individuals to diversion programs instead of jail.
- According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Ron Latz, the proposed changes could have a significant effect on overcrowded prisons in Minnesota, possibly freeing up an estimated 600 prison beds.
An overhaul of Minnesota’s drug crime laws is long overdue, and the subject has been debated by lawmakers for decades. The proposed changes could be just what the community needs to help drug addicts seek treatment while ensuring that repeat offenders and those convicted of more serious drug crimes receive harsher sentencing.