Minnesota to legalize possession of drug paraphernalia, even if it has residue

Gov. Walz signed a bill Friday designed to stop the spread of disease, keep people safer

Minnesota lawmakers passed a mammoth public safety budget bill that included little-noticed provisions that will legalize possession of drug paraphernalia and any drug residue that might be in it.

The bill — signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Friday — allows people to possess hypodermic syringes or needles; removes the cap on the number of syringes pharmacists can sell people without a prescription; and no longer bans possession of products used to test the “strength, effectiveness or purity” of a controlled substance. It would still be illegal to manufacture drug paraphernalia for delivery.

The bill also allows community-based public health programs to provide sterile needles, syringes and other injection equipment — in addition to educating people on overdose prevention and safe injection practices.

The paraphernalia provisions are among an array of new policies in the bill that seek to make Minnesota’s criminal justice system less punitive and more rehabilitative, including cutting prison time for people who seek drug treatment and other services while locked up.

Syringe service programs have been operating in Minnesota; this makes it clear they’re legal, according to Kurtis Hanna, a drug law reform lobbyist.

Hanna said Minnesota will be the first state to fully legalize the delivery and possession of all drug paraphernalia, even if it has controlled substance residue on it. When people don’t have access to clean supplies, they share needles and diseases spread more easily.

“It’s a humongous deal,” he said. “It allows individuals in Minnesota to not be afraid of keeping a needle that they just used in their pocket so they can return it to the syringe services provider that they got it from.”

Currently, it’s a petty misdemeanor for a first offense, but there have been cases where people have been charged with felonies for having meth residue on a pipe, Hanna said.

Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, sponsored the bill and others meant to help people of color, who have been disproportionately harmed by the criminal justice system. She is a Black woman and daughter of an immigrant.

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