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Cannabis Criminal Defense in Minnesota: Strategies That Work

Marijuana possession charges often result in cases that are difficult to defend. Achieving a case dismissal, acquittal, or attractive plea bargain requires a tough advocate with the best defense strategies who fights the state every step of the way.

Criminal defense attorneys possess a keen understanding of the defense strategies that work. In this article, we delve into four different defense strategies that can kill a marijuana possession case: lack of possession, Fourth Amendment violations, a chain of custody failure, and entrapment. By detailing each defense and how skillful lawyers can apply them to a marijuana case, this piece provides a comprehensive understanding of the potential strategies that can overcome a marijuana possession charge in Minneapolis.

What Constitutes Cannabis Crime in Minnesota?

Violations of Minnesota’s felony marijuana possession laws occur when individuals possess quantities of marijuana exceeding the decriminalized limit of 42.5 grams or engage in specific prohibited activities. Under Minnesota law, possession of marijuana beyond the decriminalized amount is a felony. Penalties depend on the quantity involved, the defendant’s criminal history, and whether the state proves intent to distribute.

Though decriminalized in Minnesota, the possession, sale, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes are still illegal. This language creates some confusion about what constitutes a cannabis crime. In a nutshell, if the police catch you in possession of less than 42.5 grams of marijuana, they can issue you a citation, similar to a minor traffic offense. A fine of up to $200 may be imposed, but you risk no jail time or criminal record.

However, if caught in possession of more than 42.5 grams, you face felony charges, carrying a potential prison sentence, substantial fines, and a serious criminal record.  The severity of the penalties increases with the amount of marijuana involved.

Also, a distinction exists between the possession of recreational marijuana and violations of the state’s medical marijuana requirements. Theoretically, a medical marijuana user can possess more than the legal limit; however, if the patient has violated provisions of the medical marijuana statute, he can face a felony charge.

Violations of Minnesota’s Medical Marijuana Requirements

Minnesota has established a medical marijuana program that allows qualifying patients to use cannabis for specific medical conditions. The program imposes strict regulations to ensure legal and responsible use.

To legally use medical marijuana in Minnesota, patients must have a qualifying medical condition and be registered with the Minnesota Department of Health. Patients must obtain certification from a healthcare practitioner authorized to recommend medical cannabis.

Illegal use of medical marijuana in Minnesota includes:

  1. Unauthorized possession: Individuals who possess marijuana without proper registration or certification are in violation of the law.
  2. Sharing or selling: It is illegal for registered patients to share or sell their medical marijuana to others who are not registered patients. Similarly, non-registered individuals cannot sell or distribute medical marijuana.
  3. Using marijuana for non-approved conditions: The medical marijuana program in Minnesota specifies qualifying medical conditions. Using medical marijuana for conditions unapproved by the program is illegal.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information on medical marijuana laws and requirements in Minnesota, refer to the Minnesota Department of Health’s official website.

The Most Effective Cannabis Criminal Defenses in Minnesota

Whether you face a felony cannabis charge due to possession of recreational- or medical marijuana, you need effective defense strategies if you expect to avoid a conviction and stiff sentence. The following defenses are the most likely to succeed, though others may work in specific situations.

Lack of Possession

In a marijuana possession case, possession is 100% of the law. No possession = No conviction.

Therefore, lack of possession serves as one of the strong defense strategies. To secure a conviction for possession, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had actual or constructive possession of the marijuana.

Actual possession refers to having physical control or immediate physical possession of marijuana. If the prosecution fails to demonstrate that the defendant had physical control over the drug, the case is weak. For example, if the marijuana was found in a shared space or in a vehicle with multiple occupants, the defense may contend that the defendant had no control over the substance.

Defense strategies based on the lack of actual possession might arise if the defendant was driving and then a passenger in the car suddenly pull out marijuana and starts smoking, resulting in a traffic stop. In this case, the driver has no criminal liability because the passenger brought the substance into the vehicle without his knowledge. Though the driver then became aware of the marijuana before the traffic stop, he never exercised physical control or actual possession.

Constructive possession cases involve an allegation that the defendant had knowledge of the presence of marijuana and the ability to exercise control over it, even if they don’t have direct physical contact. To establish constructive possession, the prosecution must prove a sufficient connection between the defendant and the marijuana. The lack of evidence linking the defendant to marijuana creates a strong defense.

For instance, if the marijuana was found in a common area accessible to multiple people, such as a dorm dayroom, it can be challenging for the prosecution to prove that the defendant had knowledge of the drugs.

The Fourth Amendment Defense

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In a marijuana possession case, a defense attorney may invoke the Fourth Amendment defense if he has reason to believe that the marijuana was discovered during an illegal search and seizure.

This defense generally applies when law enforcement officials conduct a search without a valid warrant, consent, or probable cause. A warrant is an official document issued by a judge, authorizing law enforcement to conduct a search. For a judge to grant a warrant, the state must meet the burden of proving probable cause. Without a valid warrant, officials need either immediate probable cause, such as seeing a crime in progress, or the individual’s consent to conduct a search.

For example, suppose an officer pulled a driver over for a minor traffic violation and decided to search the vehicle without the driver’s consent. A minor traffic violation is not enough to establish probable cause to search the vehicle. If the officer discovered marijuana during the search, a defense attorney would argue the officer violated the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights. If the court agrees, the marijuana could be ruled inadmissible evidence, leading to the dismissal of the charges.

For more detailed information about the Fourth Amendment, visit resources such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Chain of Custody Defense

The chain of custody refers to the process of documenting the collection, control, transfer, analysis, and disposal of evidence in a criminal case. In the context of a marijuana possession case, the chain of custody requires law enforcement to track the seized marijuana from the moment it’s collected by law enforcement until it’s presented in court as evidence.

A chain of custody defense argues that there has been a break or flaw in this process, making the evidence unreliable. If a defense attorney can demonstrate that the chain of custody was broken, the court may rule the evidence inadmissible.

For example, let’s consider a scenario where law enforcement officials seize a bag of marijuana from a suspect. The bag is then handed over to a forensic analyst for testing. However, the marijuana changes hands multiple times before reaching the analyst, and there’s no clear documentation of each transfer. In this case, the state fails to establish who had access to the evidence, opening the possibility of tampering, contamination, or misidentification.

Similarly, if the bag of marijuana presented in court appears substantially different from the one described in the initial police report (e.g., different weight, color, or packaging), the defense attorney can argue a break in the chain of custody must have occurred.

Raising questions about the chain of custody requires a thorough understanding of legal procedures and the ability to scrutinize each step in the process, from the initial seizure to laboratory testing to court presentation.


In an entrapment defense, the defense argues the suspect was induced or persuaded by law enforcement to commit a crime that they would not have otherwise committed. The defense claims that the government enticed a person into committing a criminal act and then punished them for it.

In a marijuana case, this could apply if, for instance, an undercover officer pressured an individual into buying or selling marijuana when the person had no previous intention to engage in such an activity. To win, the defense needs to demonstrate that the law enforcement officer implanted the idea of committing the crime in the mind of an innocent person.

However, law enforcement can provide an opportunity for a person to commit a crime, provided there is no persuasion or coercion on the part of officers.  For instance, a correctly orchestrated sting operation is not entrapment. In some cases, undercover officers may pose as drug dealers or even hide in a delivery truck made to look like it has broken down to provide an opportunity for thieves to break in. Should the suspect have taken advantage of these opportunities of his own accord, no entrapment defense applies.

It’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney if you believe you were entrapped, as criminal defense lawyers can help you understand the law and build an effective defense. For more detailed information on entrapment, you can refer to resources such as the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

Discuss Your Defense Strategies With Gerald Miller, P.A.

Facing a marijuana possession charge can be daunting and stressful, but understanding the various defenses available helps you see how your situation may improve. Gerald Miller, P.A. is a seasoned criminal lawyer with extensive experience in handling marijuana possession cases. He understands the intricacies of Minnesota’s marijuana laws and can help you build a solid defense.

Don’t let confusion and fear dictate the course of your legal journey. Reach out to an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process and fight for your rights. Contact Gerald Miller, P.A. today to secure the legal representation you deserve.

Related Content: What Happens When You Get Charged with Second-Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance in Minnesota?

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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