Report: blacks more likely to face marijuana arrests

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nicole Simms opens up a press conference Tuesday on marijuana legalization, talking to the idea of drug arrests in the African American community.  Eric Johnson/

Nicole Simms opens up a press conference Tuesday on marijuana legalization, talking to the idea of drug arrests in the African American community.
Eric Johnson/

A recently released report using the FBI’s 2011 arrest statistics calls out Mower County and Minnesota for racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests.

Progressive think-tank Minnesota 2020 and marijuana advocate MN NORML are advocating for less penalties for marijuana-related arrests after Minnesota 2020 fellow Nicole Simms found black residents were 6.4 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession in Minnesota, and 4.1 times more likely in Mower County.

“This is over two times the national average, and it means more of the direct and indirect costs are being incurred by black Minnesotans,” Simms said Tuesday at a press conference near the Mower County Jail and Justice Center.

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According to the report, Minnesota was among the worst states when it came to racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests.

Representatives for MN NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) also called for support in legalizing marijuana use and decreasing marijuana-related penalties at Tuesday’s press conference.

The report highlights the costs associated with fighting felony marijuana possession charges, which Minnesota 2020 estimates as much as $76,000 over several years for one arrest based on court costs and the associated stigma of arrests for marijuana.

Local law enforcement officials say marijuana possession arrests are uncommon in Mower County. Under state statute, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor which often results in a citation and fine. A person must have more than 42 grams of marijuana to earn a felony possession charge.

“It’s pretty rare that we see felony cases for marijuana,” Austin Police Captain Dave McKichan said. Felony marijuana charges are far more common in cases where police arrest a person for having more serious drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine, as marijuana is more likely found in conjunction with those other drugs, according to McKichan.

MN NORML officials hope to gain support for marijuana legalization at the local level over the next few years. Nathan Ness, the group’s director of organizing, said several branches of MN NORML had sprouted up over the past year in places like Duluth and MN NORML hoped to start a chapter in the Mower County area.

“Cannabis is safer than tobacco,” he said. “A lot of people are saying it’s even safer than sugar. Let’s allow responsible adults to make decisions about whether or not they want to consume this relatively safe plant.”

MN NORML’s advocacy push comes as the Minnesota Legislature debates whether to legalize medical marijuana. The issue appeared dead earlier this session after Gov. Mark Dayton said he wouldn’t support a medical marijuana bill without law enforcement support, but the state Senate recently passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in pill or oil form.