Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, where a sting targeting low-level cannabis sales was started and quickly ended. JOECHRISTENSEN / GETTY IMAGES
While there are legit issues with cannabis here on the West Coast, overall we have it pretty good. Supplies are plentiful, selection is bountiful, and new strains and products are refined and released regularly. And in cities everywhere along the coast, there continues to be discussion and action around the issues of cannabis and race—such as expungement programs for cannabis arrests, and setting aside a portion of recreational licenses for people of color. We aren’t all woke yet, but we’re groggy, and trying to sit up.
So it’s important to remember that for our fellow citizens of color living in other parts of the country, their experiences around cannabis and race may differ a great deal from ours. (And no, they aren’t better experiences.) These differences are starting to gain attention after a clearly race-based cannabis criminal enforcement program in Minneapolis was called out, then quickly ended in the course of a day.
As reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last Thursday (and picked up by The Root on Monday), an undercover sting program which targeted low-level cannabis sales was ended quickly by the Minneapolis Police Department. The program had placed undercover officers onto downtown Minneapolis’ Hennepin Avenue in response to concerns about public safety. The undercover officers made buys of cannabis from street dealers, many of whom were homeless. For most of these sales, the amount of cannabis was one or two grams, valued at $10 to $20.
Since the start of 2018, they made 47 arrests, all of whom were charged with felonies, resulting in sentencing to diversion programs, convictions, deportations, and in at least one case, a man going to prison. This is for the same amount of weed you’d find in a couple of pre-rolls.
The Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office did some investigating, and wrote up a report that revealed some disturbing facts about the cases. Such as: Out of the 47 who were arrested, 46 were black. From the report:
“On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals and groups, and asking to buy drugs. Officers have directly asked black men to facilitate drug deals with other black men, and have then requested that the facilitator be charged with sale. They are submitting the cases for felony charges.”
Oh, and the 47th arrest? A white guy who approached an undercover officer and offered to sell him weed. (Worst ally ever, dude. Go home.)
Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty forwarded the report to the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, with the opinion that this clearly appeared to be racial profiling. (Yes. That’s exactly what it was. A perfect example, actually.) She said in an interview on Thursday: “Approaching black men and women who are low income and homeless and then having the county attorney charge them with felony drug sales makes me very angry and disappointed.”
The mayor immediately instructed the police to discontinue the sting, and made his position very clear in a statement that same day: “I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level…the fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization.” Within hours, the police commissioner announced that in addition to ending the stings as directed, they would be dropping charges against the 47 in question.
Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced policy changes by the New York district attorney to end arrests for low level public consumption, after a New York Times report uncovered grave disparities in arrests of people of color, despite equal use of cannabis between blacks and whites.
The state of Minnesota currently has a legalized medical marijuana program in effect.
Full story is available here.