The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 14, 2014

Minnesota 2020 lobbies for pot reform

Law enforcement refutes that blacks targeted

A Minnesota 2020 report shows Minnesota has one of the largest racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the country, and within the state, Blue Earth County’s disparity is higher than the national average.

Nicole Simms, a Minnesota 2020 fellow, authored a report that looked at 2011 FBI statistics related to Minnesota’s marijuana laws. The report indicates that in 2011 black people in the state were 6.4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. That’s more than two times the national average of 3.05, the report states.

Blue Earth County had the ninth-highest disparity among county statistics with blacks being 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for possession. (The report only looked at counties with populations greater than 30,000 and a black population greater than 2 percent.) Nicollet County showed blacks were 1.3 times more likely to be arrested than whites.

Simms, representatives of Minnesota’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Mankato-based American Civil Liberties Union representatives gathered at the Blue Earth County Justice Center Tuesday to discuss costs and “collateral damage” associated with arrests for marijuana offenses.

Their goals are to lobby for fairer law enforcement arrest strategies and for marijuana laws reform, including easier expunging of criminal records for low-level offenses. They also promote data sharing among law enforcement agencies to help identify and address “problematic patterns in policing activities.”

Ian Bratlie, a Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project attorney, said the skewed arrest rates have a lot to do with blacks being policed more heavily than whites. Survey results in the report showed that in 2010 blacks in Minnesota were 1.8 times more likely to use marijuana than whites, which Simms said is far short of the statistic that shows they were arrested 6.4 times more often for possession in 2011.

Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson was not provided with the report, nor was he informed of the group’s visit. But he said law enforcement does not police any race more or less than another, which is illegal. The Drug Task Force works hard to investigate drug activity and builds solid cases based on evidence that has nothing to do with race, he said.

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