Drug-free zone laws were implemented at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic as a part of the “War on Drugs.” These laws enhanced penalties for drug crimes committed in areas frequented by children with the hope of keeping drug dealers from selling to kids, and to keep drug-related violence away from them.
Sounds like a good idea, right?
In theory, perhaps. However, in practice, drug-free zone laws impose unreasonably harsh penalties that disproportionately affect low-income areas and racial minorities. Therefore, these laws have been called into question, and in many states are being reformed.
Below, we’re going to take a look at Minnesota’s drug-free zone laws, and some of the controversy surrounding them.
Drug-Free Zones Defined
In Minnesota, a drug-free zone is defined as the area within one city block or 300 feet (whichever is greater) of a park, public housing project or school.
These laws also protect the property surrounding drug treatment facilities and school buses or other vehicles transporting elementary and secondary school children.
Stiff Penalties for Drug Crimes Committed in Minnesota Drug-Free Zones
The penalties for drug crimes committed within drug-free zones are much greater than for drug crimes committed elsewhere. Both the sale and possession of marijuana and other narcotics can leave you facing decades behind bars and insurmountable fines.
Get caught selling any amount of marijuana in a drug-free zone, and you may be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Sale of narcotics other than marijuana within a drug-free zone is punishable by a 25-year prison sentence – on a first-time offense. Repeat offenders will face up to 40 years, and both cases could warrant up to $500,000 in fines.
It’s in your best interest to avoid even carrying drugs on your person if your route includes a drug-free zone. Even charges of mere possession within these zones can land you 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
Moreover, juveniles over 14 who are convicted of these crimes can be tried as adults, and sentenced in the adult court system.
So, What Isn’t a Drug-Free Zone in Minnesota?
Sometimes, that answer is “close to nothing.” The principles behind drug-free zones are good. Keeping drugs and drug-related violence away from kids and teens is a priority.
At the same time, because of the way these areas are zoned, these laws often wind up being counterproductive, particularly in urban and low-income areas:
- Protected areas are clustered in urban, high-density population areas. In fact, in urban areas, it can sometimes be hard to find anywhere that is not classified as a drug-free zone.
- Protected areas disproportionately affect persons of color and economically disadvantaged citizens.
- The laws are drafted so broadly that they encompass drug offenses that do not involve school children or other vulnerable individuals and take place outside of school hours.
As a result, defendants face unreasonably enhanced penalties for even simple drug possession that does not involve school children. This can clog court systems and divert resources from real criminal issues and protections.
So, what should be done?
Reforms to Minnesota Drug-Free Zone Laws
Studies suggest that drug-free zone laws do not, in fact, deter drug use in school-age children. Further, incarceration for drug offenses, particularly possession, is generally ineffective in preventing future commission of drug crimes. In fact, the poverty cycle caused by incarceration can actually encourage repeat offenses.
Many states have already reformed their drug-free zone policies, and we can only hope that Minnesota will soon follow. In the meantime, we recommend an experienced Minnesota drug crime defense attorney if you’re facing charges and unreasonable penalties for a drug crime committed in a drug-free zone.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).