Minneapolis set to decriminalize pot possession

Potheads just wanna smoke pot in peace.

Potheads just wanna smoke pot in peace.

Walking around Minneapolis with pot in your pocket is still a crime punishable by hundreds of dollars in fines and jail time. 

That's not the case under Minnesota state law, however, where pot possession is a petty misdemeanor and getting caught comes with just a one-time fine. 

Minneapolis Councilmen Andrew Johnson and Jacob Frey think it's time that city laws sync up with state statutes. Their proposal for full decriminalization within Minneapolis will go up for a vote Friday morning.

Minneapolis Police already follow the state's guidelines, according to the city attorney. Most humble stoners are already getting fined rather than charged with the full misdemeanor, so the change won't make that much of a difference in real life. 

Still, there are some unlucky bastards out there who have actually fallen through the gap between city and state possession laws. Those guys need a break too, says Kurtis Hanna, the lobbyist who's been advocating for the change over the past five years.

He got involved after a friend was charged with misdemeanor possession in 2010. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office ultimately amended the charge to a petty misdemeanor, but Hanna was surprised that the stronger charge was still possible in Minneapolis. So he started calling city council members to ask for some consistency between state and local laws.

"The one thing that I find missing is, frankly, the park police do like to charge these out as misdemeanors," says attorney Brandon Borgos, president of marijuana advocacy group Sensible Minnesota. "From my discussion with other criminal defense attorneys, they do also get a significant amount of cases that come through showing people are not only getting charged with misdemeanors for possession of cannabis, but also misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia."

To Johnson, the change in city ordinance is mostly symbolic. It's Minneapolis taking the position that recreational smoking really ought to be OK. 

"Are some people occasionally charged with the full misdemeanor? Yes," Johnson says. "Should officers have the discretion to charge folks with the full misdemeanor instead of the petty if they really wanted to? No."