Marijuana in Black and White in Minnesota

June 04, 2013

Minnesota ACLU Press Release

CONTACT: 651.645.4097 x121; [email protected]

New Report Features Original Data Analysis on Marijuana Arrest Rates by Race and Details High Costs of Enforcement

ST. PAUL, Minn. – According to a new report by the ACLU, Blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at 7.81 times the rate of whites in 2010, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report,Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race. The findings show that while there were pronounced racial disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, they have grown significantly worse.

“The War on Marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” says Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU and one of the primary authors of the report. “State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost.”

In Minnesota, the counties with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests were Hennepin, Ramsey, and Dakota. Statewide, police officers made 7,494 arrests for marijuana possession in 2010, and marijuana possession rates accounted for 42.8 percent of all drug arrests in 2010. From 2001-2010, overall marijuana possession arrest rates fell -0.5% and the racial disparities among such arrests increased 231%.

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, Minnesota spent as much as 69 million dollars enforcing marijuana laws in 2010. Nationally, states spent a combined $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.

“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” says Mr. Edwards. “These arrests have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live. When people are arrested for possessing even tiny amounts of marijuana, they can be disqualified from public housing and student financial aid, lose or find it more difficult to obtain employment, lose custody of their child, and be deported. In addition, the targeted enforcement of marijuana possession laws against people of color creates a community of mistrust and reduced cooperation with the police, which damages public safety. Furthermore, despite being a priority for many police departments across the states for the past decade, the aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws has not even accomplished one of law enforcement’s purported goals: to eradicate or even diminish the use of marijuana.”

Key national findings from the report include:

Arrests Rates

- Nationwide, between 2001 and 2010, there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests. Over 7 million, or 88 percent, of these arrests were for possession (versus for sale or distribution). In 2010, there were over 889,000 marijuana arrests – 300,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined that year. This means one marijuana arrest every 37 seconds in 2010. Over 780,000 of those arrests were for possession only.

Race Disparities

- Nationwide, Blacks were over 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite comparable usage rates.

- In Minnesota, Blacks were on average nearly 8 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites. In Ramsey County alone, Blacks were 9.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.

- The racial disparities exist in all regions of the U.S., as well as in both large and small counties, cities and rural areas, and in both high- and low-income communities. Disparities are also consistently high whether Blacks make up a small or a large percentage of a county’s overall population.

The ACLU of Minnesota supports Senate File 1641 and House File 1818 introduced in the Minnesota Legislature this past session. The ACLU vows to work hard to ensure that the bills continue to receive widespread support in the next legislative session in 2014. The ACLU is also calling for all states to decriminalize marijuana by licensing and regulating marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons 21 or older, taxing marijuana sales, and removing state law criminal and civil penalties for such activities.

Decriminalization would eliminate the unfair racially- and community-targeted selective enforcement of marijuana laws. At a time when states are facing budget shortfalls, taxing and regulating marijuana would save state and local governments millions of dollars currently spent on enforcement and help raise millions more in revenue. This is money that can be invested in public schools and community and public health programs, including drug treatment.

In the report, the organization also urges lawmakers and law enforcement to reform policing practices, including ending racial profiling as well as unconstitutional stops, frisks, and searches, and also to reform state and federal funding streams that incentivize police to make low-level drug arrests. The full report can be accessed at