Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Collateral Costs: Racial Disparities and Injustice in Minnesota’s Marijuana Laws

April 21, 2014 By Nicole Simms, Fellow

Download full report (pdf)
View online at Scribd

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.

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.


Since this report was published, Governor Dayton signed a seizure law that requires a conviction for property to be forfeited.



Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • NAME says:

    April 21, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I find this shocking

  • tickler says:

    April 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Well, blacks use marijuana more than whites….according to your data.
    Solution: Don’t use marijuana.
    That was easy.  Next?

    • Lou D says:

      April 26, 2014 at 10:50 am

      The article does not indicate that. Reading comprehension is super important! grin

    • Nicole Simms says:

      April 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Hi tickler. The data indicate blacks report using marijuana 1.8 times more than whites. This doesn’t account for blacks being 6.4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

  • Anthony says:

    April 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    This is another reason young black boy are in fatherless households. let’s legalize marijuana now.

  • latchkeykid says:

    April 22, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you for this article. I believe once the debate turns aside from the profit motive that our legislators and county officials which have legalized cannabis in their states. The social disparity issue will fuel another progressive stride forward in ending cannabis prohibition. I applaud and support your crucial campaign to change this dialog. He issue of the extreme detriment to the brothers and sisters whose past descendants built this great country with their blood sweat and tears only to be continually harassed and have their lives and families lives ruined due to unjust laws prohibiting cannabis is truly egregious. According to the ACLU study called the uncovery, the chart clearly shows whites acually smoke a fraction more than blacks.
    This the beginning of the rise in truth, justice and a fair and equal life of living for all. End cannabis prohibition now. Still no person in favor of cannabis has answered the simple question of how this plant cannabis which has never harmed a soul on Gods green earth, is dangerous? How can something that can not kill you be dangerous? I tell you, it can become dangerous when men create laws trying to control it and punish others.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    While this is your first real attempt at dealing with this Public Employee Racism issue, you have, (intentionally of ignorantly), soft peddled the truth here. First you have apparently forgotten about Native Americans who are running at about the same numbers as Blacks followed closely by Hispanic peoples. You fail to mention that the vast majority of “Drug War” arrests, (about 2/3rds) are for Cannabis, one of the worlds oldest medicinal Plants as well as the only non-lethal intoxicant available to the public. You also fail to mention what percentage of these people die either in incarceration or as a direct result of incarceration. You are loath to use the word RACISM to describe these actions by your fellow Public Employee Union Members or show any remorse for the terrible societal ills such as our education disparity caused by this. This year the DFL will hold their convention in Duluth, arguably the most RACIST city in Minnesota where only 25% of Native American students and 50% of Black students graduate, the worst in the State. Recognition is only the first step to fixing the problem, the hard part is action, what are you going to do to end this blatant RACISM.

    • Nicole Simms says:

      April 28, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Bill. The FBI data I analyzed indicates Native Americans are 1.8 times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. A racial disparity therefore exists, but it is not as egregious as the black:white disparity. Unfortunately, arrest data for Hispanics is not available, as they are considered to be an ethnic rather than racial group by the FBI (and many other agencies). This definitely presents an issue as many Hispanics are classified as Caucasian during an arrest, which inflates the white arrest rate and makes the black:white arrest disparity seem smaller than it would likely be if Hispanics arrests were not included in white arrests.

      • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

        May 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

        Nicole, you are trying to apply national statistics to Minnesota. Look back at Minnesota’s past statistics on this issue and you will find that in Minnesota it is Native Americans in second place to Blacks as being the second most persecuted RACE.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    tickler: Your answer is a typically RACIST white bread response. With Cannabis use running between 15 and 20% according to statistics, it is impossible for Blacks to be using it at even 6.6 times as much as whites in fact the differences are only tenths of a percent. So much for your ignorant RACIST simple minded answer to a complex Racism problem led by our Public Employee Unions. Educate yourself before blurting out ignorant statements redneck.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    April 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    One more issue that escaped your scrutiny, VOTING RIGHTS. I feel the need to emphasize this issue since it is so imbedded in the DFL physic. While we so adamantly argue against voter ID at the poles, we as a party have no qualm about steeling the voting rights of those we are politically suppressing. I will be slamming the Party over this RACIST issue at both the 8th CD and the State convention. Come on down and hear me roar.

  • Nancy K Farnham says:

    April 27, 2014 at 1:18 pm


    I apologize for the length of this comment.

    Many thanks for the presentation of your statistics on the disparity issue at yesterday’s monthly membership meeting for MNNORML.
    As a member of this organization since January 2013, my goal is the REMOVAL of cannabis from Schedule I of the Feds categorical definitions. I have my own primary reason for using my energy to realize this goal, but I also have secondary reasons, the first of which is the racial and every other type of disparity the government uses against it’s citizens in order to finance the Drug War. One of the most disgusting aspects of the behavior of the Drug Warriors is to victimize and prey off of select groups of people, some of which are only trying to successfully treat a medical condition they are plagued with.  But in my opinion, it is only a matter of time before the DEA has the power to make it’s selections on who’s life it will attempt to destroy from the body of ALL U.S. citizens. With regards to the “war on drugs”, there is irrefutable indication and concrete demonstration of the gradual increase in government control over it’s citizens by continuing to promote lies as well as obscure the facts. It has become perilous for ANYONE who values their life and freedom to continue to refuse to pay attention,and it is my task, to do anything I can to get the U.S. citizens to wake up about this issue before it is too late. IT IS NOT EVEN ABOUT SMOKING POT, and never was.
    The fact that the government is using cannabis prohibition SPECIFICALLY to finance their agenda has got to be interrupted. The sooner the better.

    I view statistical studies such as yours as being valuable tools that can be used in order to convey the truth to the sleeping public. However, the statistical analysis is not perfect, is subject to being discredited for any number of reasons, and I’ll not delude myself that statistics are commonly used by the more successful politicians when trying to get their point across, irregardless of whether the point is rational.  I will assume that the statistics you have presented here will be subject to manipulation by Drug Warriors, but nevertheless, I greatly appreciate having them to use.

  • KYFryer says:

    May 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Nicole, no one is outraged by the two reasons behind the shift in marijuana laws.  Meth and public costs.  When Nancy Reagan promoted the war on drugs she didn’t plan for the captured to include Meth users.  Blacks don’t mess with meth.
    As meth grew so did rehab. saving the future of so many who should have received the same treatment/felony convictions as pot smokers.  When did we became soft on drugs and why were so racist and no one comments.  Ignorance isn’t a defense.

    • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

      May 2, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      KYFryer, it seems your trying hard here to justify the Racist “War on Drugs”. Your meth analogy is ignorant at best since much like Cannabis arrests, in rural MN a bust for meth or Cannabis is far more likely to get a prison sentence. Your suggestion that someone getting busted for meth is far more likely to be white and far more likely to getr treatment rather than prison only further supports that the “War on Drugs” is RACIST. I do agree that Ignorance about the facts surrounding the “War on Drugs” is no defense. Are you a RACIST???

  • tim johnson says:

    May 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    The data do not support this article: pot usage is measured very grossly, as in, have you used pot in the past 12 months… it does not measure frequency of use…ergo, if you use pot 5 times a week versus once a month, you are much more likely to be arrested for possessing pot,even though you will show up in this report as “equal,” in usage to someone using pot once a month.
      So there is not racial disparity proven in this report,b ased on this data; until actual pot usage is better accounted for, we don’t know… so let’s stop with the dishonest reporting and seeing a racial disparity that has not been demonstrated as being there.

    • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

      May 16, 2014 at 9:54 am

      We went from 300,000 people in our penal system in 1971 to our present 2.3 million. We now jail a higher percentage of our black residents over weed than the old Jim Crow did in Mississippi in 1959, yet self serving RACISTS, like many of our police, see nothing wrong with this even though 2/3rds of them are for cannabis use,(2/3rds of the 2 million increase, over 700,000 new cannabis arrests per year at the Federal level alone). Read Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow” and you will began to understand the real costs to society here. Some fools still deny the Holocaust too.

      • Dan Conner says:

        September 9, 2014 at 8:19 am

        This is surprising, but I actually agree with a lot Bill says in this post about racism.

  • Johnc404 says:

    September 2, 2014 at 10:08 am

    I just like the helpful info you supply on your articles. I will bookmark your blog and take a look at once more here regularly. I’m somewhat sure Ill learn a lot of new stuff right right here! Best of luck for the following!