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Major deal would cut Minnesota prison sentences... except for marijuana

The most popular drug is the only one Minnesota's cracking down on.

The most popular drug is the only one Minnesota's cracking down on.

There are too many Americans going to prison. This fact is acknowledged across the country.

Liberals think the system is unfairly punitive and inherently racist, with the school-to-prison pipeline doing everything it can to destroy minority families. Conservatives say the whole system just costs too damn much.

The trend of lockin' em up and throwin' away the key is slowly ending all over, even in Minnesota, a state that imprisons its people at the second-lowest rate in the country, behind only Maine. But with 289 out of every 100,000 people in prison, as of a 2013 study, Minnesota's incarceration rate would rank us 37th among all countries in the world, tying with Swaziland. And just behind Iran.

Lawmakers and criminal justice figures here have hit on a tentative deal that would drastically reform how the state thinks about sentencing for drug-related crimes, the Star Tribune reports. As it stands, anyone caught with 10 grams of methamphetamine or cocaine is looking at about seven years in prison.

If this proposal were signed into law, the new threshold would be 17 grams (about half an ounce), and the sentencing guideline would cut the recommended stint in the joint to more like five years.

More importantly, people with smaller amounts, more often associated with personal use (up to three grams) instead of dealing, would face four years of probation instead of four years in prison, as it's currently structured.

This is good! 

Here's what's bad. While cops and prosecutors are cool with lowering the penalties on dealers and users of hard drugs, they're rolling out harsher punishments for the most common drug of all: pot. A substance that this state has (sort of) approved for medicinal use, and is perfectly legal in four states, Washington D.C., and soon, the whole of Canada, is the one thing Minnesota's cracking down on in this proposal.

Under the terms sketched out in the Strib, the amount of marijuana necessary to trigger a 65-month (five years, five months) prison sentence would drop from 50 kilograms (110 pounds) to 25 kilograms (55 pounds). Likewise, the amount of weed needed to trigger a second-degree possession charge would also be cut in half, though, there, at least, the reforms would give offenders four years of probation instead of four years in prison.

Admittedly, 110 pounds, even 55 pounds, of marijuana is a lot of dope for a dealer. For an individual user, it's unfathomable — enough to easily get you through the next 40 times Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg crash on your couches for the weekend.

But remember, it's 2016. If you had 100 pounds of pot to get rid of and lived in, say, Denver, you're not a felon. You're an entrepreneur.