Marijuana as a recreational drug is slowly becoming more acceptable. Within Minneapolis, there are moves toward legalization. Some are even pushing for full legalization by 2022 in Minnesota. While these numbers are hopeful for users, there is also more action that needs to be taken — action for both current users and for past users convicted of crimes due to possession or sales.
The racial disparity between marijuana-related arrests is prevalent. A 2018 Hennepin County sting resulted in the arrest of 47 people, 46 of whom were black. These inequalities caused Minneapolis police to stop small-scale arrests for minor amounts of weed possession, according to MPR reporting. This realization also led some lawmakers to push for the expungement of records of those that have already been arrested, according to reporting from MPR.
Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, stands in support of forgiving past violators of a law that is now considered outdated. The legalization of weed does not have a meaningful impact unless there is remorse for those who have spent decades in jail because of small sales and possessions. Since 2010, 70,000 Minnesotans have spent time in jail for weed-based crimes. Allowing these people the justice they deserve is vital for legalization to actually matter. Communities, families and individual lives have been ruined because of petty arrests. While release may not even be enough, it is necessary for past violators of an outdated law to restart their lives.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman supports decriminalizing the drug, but he still believes those with prior convictions, including misdemeanors, should do community service or meet other specific conditions before dismissing their cases, according to Star Tribune reporting. This seems unjustified when many of these people have already spent years, if not decades, in prison for something that will likely become socially acceptable in the same way alcohol is.
Hennepin County is making proper strides, but our surrounding suburbs deserve the same standards. While laws surrounding the drug are pushing for the whole state to legalize, the decriminalization of the substance should occur in all Minnesota cities. Otherwise, there is a clear inequality that will continue to impact mostly people of color. Legalization and the efforts toward it need to be statewide, rather than city by city.
An KSTP poll from the last year found 56 percent of Minnesotans support legalizing recreational marijuana. These numbers are mostly based around the metro and densely populated areas. A change in mentality is imperative in order for the movement to fully reach its goals. This change can happen by improving drug education in schools and outer cities. Working toward an actual understanding of how common drugs work needs to occur for more people to feel comfortable with the substance becoming a regular part of life. More awareness of the fact that marijuana is a mostly safe drug, especially when compared to alcohol or other hard drugs, could be what leads to legalization and a paradigm shift within within society.
While we, as a state, are heading in the right direction, there are still major strides that can be made toward equality in marijuana laws.