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Minnesota Drug Crimes & Criminal Penalties: An Overview

Whereas driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI) is most often associated with alcohol, Minnesota law also prohibits driving while under the influence of drugs or other hazardous substances.

Pursuant to Minn. Stat. Ann. § 169A.20, a Minnesota motorist is guilty of a DWI drugs if s/he:

  • Knowingly drives, operates, or is in physical control of a motor vehicle
  • Is under the influence of a controlled substance; and/or
  • Is knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance that affects the body and impairs driving abilities; and/or
  • Has any amount of a Schedule I or II controlled substance—excluding marijuana—in the body.

For purposes of this statute, “under the influence” means that the ingested drug or substance significantly impaired one’s ability to drive. This is beyond simply having a concentration of the drug in the body.

Under Minnesota law, a controlled substance is any drug or substance listed in Schedules I through V of the Controlled Substances Act, such as narcotics, opiates, hallucinogens, and depressants, for example. Specifically, Schedule I and II substances include:

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Oxycodone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Ecstasy

If a motorist can prove s/he has a valid prescription for a Schedule I and/or II substance then s/he may have a valid legal defense; however, a prescription does not permit driving while under the influence of said substance.

Hazardous substances include such items as solvents, paint thinner, aerosol sprays, or any other substance that can be inhaled (“huffed”).

A Note on Marijuana

Even though marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, it is excluded from the state’s zero-tolerance rule that is applicable to all other Schedule I and II substances due, largely, to recent legalization and decriminalization efforts across the US; however, it is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana or any of its metabolites.

Criminal Penalties

Minnesota’s criminal penalties for a DWI Drugs is the same as a “regular” DWI, and a drugged driving incident is also considered to be a prior offense for future DWI sentencing.

Problems with Prosecuting DWI Drugs

Whereas identifying a drunk driver is rather easy based on measuring blood alcohol concentration (BAC) via breath, urine, or blood testing, it is much more difficult determining whether someone is under the influence of a controlled substance or hazardous material. Further, while .08 is the legal threshold to determine whether a driver is, in fact, under the influence of alcohol, there is no similar measure to identify how intoxicated a suspect is. Consequently, prosecutors must base their decisions on field sobriety tests, drug recognition training experts, officer observation, and police car dash-cam video.

Minnesota Loophole

Minnesota’s specific list of substances for which law enforcement agencies must test in order to file a DWI charge against a suspect include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Anxiety medications
  • Stimulants

However, there are other substances which can render a motorist under the influence but are not on the list to enable prosecutors to charge him/her under the law. For example, a person can consume an entire bottle of cough syrup, be impaired to drive, but be exempt from prosecution. Whereas in other states, like California, an individual is subject to criminal prosecution for a DWI for anything that causes impairment, such is not the case in Minnesota.

Minnesota DWI Drugs

Since 2013, Minnesota law enforcement agencies have been arresting drug-impaired motorists in record numbers; however, in 2013, only around 1,000 people were actually convicted for a DWI drugs.

Lawmakers are currently attempting to craft new legislation to account for the growing problem of drug-impaired drivers; however, until then, DWI Drugs data will likely not present an accurate picture of the current problem.

For more information, or if you or someone you know is facing charges of DWI drugs or any other DWI charge, please contact us.


Disclaimer: The information contained on this page does not constitute an attorney client relationship. Be sure to contact our law office to discuss your case with an attorney.