Report: Blacks disproportionately arrested for pot compared to whites


Blacks in Minnesota are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the rate of use being almost the same, a new report by MN2020 shows.

The nonprofit found blacks were 6.4 times more likely to be arrested for possessing pot than whites in 2011. That number, which comes from FBI data, represents one of the highest disparities in the nation. MN2020 says that number is more than twice the national average.

Painted with different numbers: The study says blacks make up a little more than 5 percent of the state's population, yet account for 27.4 percent of all marijuana possession arrests.

"That kind of overrepresentation cannot be accounted for without racial bias," said MN2020 Executive Director Steve Fletcher, according to the Pioneer Press. "It means black Minnesotans are bearing a disproportionate share of the personal and collateral costs of our war on drugs."

The Washington Post last year wrote about the marijuana arrest gap "in nine charts" via American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) data. The organization came to a similar conclusion nationally: If you're black, you're way more likely to get arrested for having pot, despite white people using it roughly the same amount. (Click here to see the ACLU's full report.)

The most recent yearly numbers (from 2010) showed about 12 percent of whites reported using marijuana, compared to about 14 percent for blacks. It's a trend that's been noticed for the past decade.

The races actually flip when narrowed to 18-25-year-olds, with whites reporting about 32 percent usage and blacks 28 percent. In addition, more blacks than whites say they've never used marijuana.

But when it comes to arrest rates?

That same data found Minnesota had the third-highest racial disparity in the country, behind only Iowa and Washington D.C. MN2020's Minnesota-only chart shows a nearly identical trend.

MN2020 shifts the study's focus not just to the arrest rates, but to the potential cost as well (and what effect that difference then has on the black population). In addition to attorney fees and fines for an arrest or conviction, the site wanted to quantify "lost economic opportunity, property forfeiture, being removed from social safety net programs, and emotional distress."

The final number: A low-level marijuana conviction, MN2020 says, can cost someone $76,000 over the following decade.

The research acknowledges some data-skewing factors. The authors of a 2006 study say blacks are more likely than whites to buy pot outdoors, or purchase it from a stranger, increasing their likelihood of arrest. But MN202 says that doesn't account for the significant arrest disparity.

Instead the nonprofit says police "hot spots" (an aggressive police presence in high-crime areas, often in neighborhoods with a significant minority population) play a big role. In addition, MN2020 says research shows blacks (and other minorities) are the target of traffic stops more frequently than whites. Law enforcement strategy, MN2020 says, "incentivize[s] volume over quality in drug arrests."

A recent KSTP/Survey USA poll found 68 percent of Minnesotans think medical marijuana should be legalized. Only 29 percent said it should be legal for recreational use however. A recent study also concluded marijuana use can physically alter the brains of young people; researchers discovered a direct correlation between the number of times users smoked and abnormalities in the brain.

Next Up