Minnesota Blacks Nearly 5 Times More Likely Than Whites To Face Marijuana Charges

State data shows that Blacks in Minnesota are nearly five times more likely to be charged for a marijuana-related offense than whites, adding more evidence to the stark racial disparity that continues in the enforcement of the nation’s drug laws.

According to data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, police made arrests for marijuana crimes 6,055 times in 2021, with nearly 90% of cases for charges of simple possession. Because marijuana has been decriminalized in Minnesota, many of the charges for possession are issued in the form of a citation similar to a traffic ticket rather than an arrest, but the BCA data do not distinguish between the two.

When analyzed by race, the data show that there were 0.67 marijuana offenses per 1,000 white Minnesotans and 3.19 arrests for every 1,000 Blacks, indicating that Blacks were about 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana charge, according to an analysis by the Minnesota Reformer. The racial disparity exists despite other evidence that shows that rates of cannabis use are relatively equal among the two racial groups.

Twin Cities Had Highest Racial Gap In Pot Arrests

Minneapolis and St. Paul showed the highest racial disparity in marijuana charges compared to other areas of the state. Black residents were nearly eight times more likely than whites to be charged with a pot offense in Hennepin and Ramsey counties last year, despite state data that show approximately equivalent rates of marijuana use between Blacks and whites.

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Police in Minneapolis ignited controversy in 2018 when a Hennepin public defender revealed in a court motion that a police initiative against low-level marijuana sales resulted in the arrests of 46 Blacks out of a total of 47 defendants. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey ordered police to end the stings over concerns of racial profiling and expressed his support for cannabis policy reform.

“I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level,” Frey said in a statement at the time. “The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization.”

While racial disparities in marijuana arrests exist in every state, even those that have legalized recreational marijuana, Minnesota’s discrepancy exceeds the national average. A 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that across the country, Blacks were an average of 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for pot. The new data from the BCA is an improvement over the ACLU’s 2020 figures, which showed that Blacks were 5.4 times more likely than whites to be charged with a marijuana offense between 2010 and 2018.

The racial disparity in the enforcement of marijuana laws continues despite cannabis policy reform measures. The ACLU report showed that while the states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen a reduction in the racial disparity, it continues, nonetheless. In Colorado, the first state to legalize pot for use by adults in 2012, Blacks were 1.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, the lowest racial gap reported nationwide.

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