Minnesota's pot arrest rate on the wane


As you might have heard by now, Minnesota is considering legalizing medical marijuana, an idea that has garnered support from both sides of the aisle in both legislative chambers. (But don't get your hopes up. Governor Tim Pawlenty--who, some reason, grants more credibility to fund-lusting law enforcement agencies than he does to scientists or doctors even on issues explicitly pertaining to public health--has vowed to veto the bill).

Now: we're just as quick to decry pot prohibition as the next sane observer, but for perspective-sake, keep in mind that Minnesota has some of the laxest pot policies in the country. And even absent an explicit change to state marijuana laws, there's evidence that enforcement is growing more reasonable.

A University of Minnesota report, published yesterday on the university's politics blog, looked at arrest data between 2001 and 2007. From Smart Politics blog:

In 2001, Minnesota's marijuana's arrest rate (for sales and possession) was 215.6 per 100,000 residents, and remained fairly flat through 2006, with the exception of a slight uptick in 2002 (to 227.5).

In 2007, however, the marijuana arrest rate plummeted 20.5 percent, from 216.3 to 171.8 per arrests per 100,000 residents from the previous year.

Furthermore, while the arrest rate for all narcotic crimes in Minnesota was virtually identical in 2001 (361.5 per 100,000 residents) as it was in 2007 (362.6 per 100,000), marijuana arrests as a percentage of all narcotics arrests decreased substantially - from 59.6 percent to 47.4 percent, or a drop of 20.5 percent (as well as a 16.8 percent drop from 2006 to 2007).

One might conclude from the data that Minnesotans are simply clearing fewer bong hits than they did before. Not necessarily, says the report.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's April 2008 State of Minnesota Profile of Drug Indicators report, marijuana is still the most commonly used and readily available drug in the state. From 2005 to 2006, a shade over 11 percent of Minnesotans (482,000) aged 12 or older reported using marijuana within the past year.

While Minnesotan's law enforcement officials are understandably reluctant to support any measure that would result in them needing to devote additional resources to monitor whether individuals are purchasing or possessing marijuana for approved medicinal purposes, it may also be the case that that there has already been a change in policing priorities to focus on other drug crimes throughout the state.

For more on medical marijuana, heed this man's rant.