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Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision clarifying, and narrowing, the definition of “sale” under Minnesota’s Controlled Substance Crimes law.

The legislature has broadly defined sale not as one would normally understand the word, but rather defined it as “to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange, distribute or dispose of to another, or to manufacture.”  This has traditionally been interpreted as any transfer of drugs from one person to another, even temporary, with an exclusion for a small amount of marijuana for no payment.

In State v. Barrow, the Supreme Court considered this definition in the context of a case where a man was convicted of “sale” when his wife hid in her bra, at his request, a quantity of cocaine.

The State relied on the “give away” and “deliver” definitions and Barrow pled guilty to sale.

The Court held that simply “giving” a person a controlled substance does not qualify as sale unless the person gives up his interest in the drug, i.e. does not intend to exert ongoing ownership or expect it back.  It similarly found that “deliver” means to yield possession, something a person does not necessarily do transferring temporary possession.

This holding may have implications beyond the fact of this case.  For example, a person who is merely holding drugs for another person, without the intent to permanently keep, use, or sell, may not be guilty of “sale” when he receives the drugs or returns them (the sale definition also includes “possession with the intent to perform” a sale act.  Similarly, a person who asks someone to hold drugs for them with the intent on taking them back, may also avoid a conviction for sale.

Sale, and possession with intent to sell, crimes carry greater penalties than possession crimes of the same amount of drugs.

Without doubt, trial and appellate Courts will grapple with how to apply this narrowing of the definition of “sale”.

If you are charged with, or being investigated for, drug offenses, the law offices of Newmark Storms can help.  Call us at 612.455.7050 for a free consultation and case analysis.