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The buzz of St. Charles

Stephen Conlin Stephen Conlin
Marijuana seized in 2010 Marijuana seized in 2010

ST. CHARLES, Minn. (KTTC) --  Voters in Colorado and the state of Washington sent another clear message on Election Day that is reverberating across America: marijuana should be legalized for recreational use by adults.

In St. Charles, a man is heading a movement driving Minnesota along the same path.

"I had bruised ribs, a broken hand, skinned up knees. They broke my glasses. They attacked my plumber," said Stephen Conlin.

Winona County deputies raided Stephen Conlin's business in 2010. Deputies confiscated 17.5 pounds of marijuana, 68 plants and $1,100 in cash. Two years later narcotics agents broke in again.

"They had snipers in my neighbors yard across the street," said Conlin. "What country do we live in?"

Perhaps by coincidence, both raids happened just before local elections in which Conlin was a candidate for city council, then this week, for mayor of St. Charles.

"I firmly believe that they were (a) trying to coerce me out of my candidacy and (b) make me unelectable and smear my name," said Conlin.

Conlin received a fifth of the votes to be the next mayor of St. Charles, but now he faces sentencing for felony possession of marijuana, though he believes what he did was completely legal.

"This is proof that I have operated lawfully," said Conlin. "This here is a tax stamp -- it's from the state of Minnesota and it's for marijuana. This is number 858. It represents 7 grams marijuana."

The Minnesota tax stamp costs $24.50 and is sold to people directly from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Conlin said he was urged to buy the stamps by none other than Gov. Mark Dayton.

County Attorney Christina Davenport explained, "The state's position is that tax stamps do not make marijuana legal. Under chapter 152 marijuana is illegal to possess and illegal to sell."

Minnesota considers marijuana illegal, but still requires you to purchase a marijuana tax stamp if you plan to make money from the product.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that just because you're engaging in an unlawful activity does not mean that you get out of paying taxes on income received on that unlawful activity," said Davenport.

Conlin claims the laws don't spell out what is considered unlawful. In fact he has since decorated his barbershop, The Buzz, with every statute related to this issue.

"What I'm trying to show is that the law does not say all possession or all sell is a crime, it says it is a crime if you unlawfully sell or possess," said Conlin. 

"If you're going to tell me that I did something unlawfully in a manner other than authorized by law, then what does the law authorize," questioned Conlin.

By law if you don't purchase the tax stamp you are committing tax evasion, but by getting the tax stamp it's clear you are in possession of an illegal substance, so are you caught in a Catch 22?

"You really have to look at it as two very separate issues and then I think that helps eliminate the confusion," said Davenport. "Tax stamps over here deal with income, taxation whereas over here you have controlled substances so if you buy your tax stamps you're not breaking tax laws, but that doesn't mean the underlying activity -- the controlled substances are legal."

Stephen Conlin said he's leading a movement to legalize marijuana in Minnesota

"We can eliminate the black market, we can open up the tax revenue," said Conlin. "We can stop the selling in your neighborhood and reduce child usage. The people selling it now don't check ID's. They don't care. They just want this."

Conlin said his plan is to sell marijuana legally in every Minnesota county.

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