Collateral costs: Racial disparities and injustice in Minnesota’s marijuana laws


Blacks in Minnesota are 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, one of the nation’s highest disparities, according to FBI statistics. Our latest report finds these disproportionate arrest rates further exacerbate equity gaps for individuals and neighborhoods in communities of color.

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The research set out to determine costs beyond fines and attorney fees to individuals arrested and/or convicted for marijuana possession, including lost economic opportunity, property forfeiture, being removed from social safety net programs, and emotional distress.

Even a low-level marijuana conviction can cost someone up to $76,000 over a decade using fairly conservative estimates. As a result, Minnesota 2020 is joining a growing body of legal experts and community activists in calling for marijuana law reform. The report’s recommendations range from fairer seizure laws and more accountable enforcement strategy to full legalization.

The laws and strategy used to fight the war on drugs have had a devastating impact on communities of color. An honest discussion about marijuana law reform must include all options and acknowledge the reality that deterrents to marijuana use have been ineffective.

A variety of factors contribute to the disparities in arrest rates. Over-policing in communities of color, cultural differences in where and how marijuana is used and purchased, and grants and seizure policies that incentivize volume over quality in drug arrests are major factors for the disparity.

As a result, blacks in Ramsey County are 8.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, the state’s highest disparity for 2011. Hennepin and Steele counties follow, with blacks in both places 6.4 time more likely to be arrested.

When state and federal policies strip wealth out of communities, it’s time to reexamine our approach to social, economic, and criminal justice issues. By highlighting collateral costs individuals and communities suffer from marijuana enforcement disparities, we hope to reframe the debate about marijuana reform.