Soften drug laws across the state

Daily Editorial Board

Last Friday, Minneapolis voted to reduce its marijuana possession laws to match those of Minnesota. Previously, Minneapolis considered marijuana possession a misdemeanor. Now, however, marijuana possession is only a “petty misdemeanor,” which does not require jail time. 
 
 
This change is expected to have little impact because city police officers rely on the state statute when handling small-scale marijuana offenses. Still, we believe the mostly symbolic decriminalization of marijuana can serve as a springboard for more local policies aimed at alleviating racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration in Minnesota.
 
 
Popular culture commonly associates college-educated white hipsters with marijuana use. However, 47 percent of marijuana users have no college education at all. This means marijuana usage is concentrated among those with lower social class. These people are more likely to experience the benefits of marijuana decriminalization. 
 
 
Minnesota’s enormous racial income disparity is coupled with the fact that people of color are more likely to face jail time. In a state where incarceration is marked by vast racial disparities, changes to the city’s marijuana policy would make a substantial impact if following the statewide marijuana guidelines weren’t already the norm.
 
 
We encourage local lawmakers to build on their symbolic marijuana decriminalization and develop strategies to reduce the incarceration rate for Minnesota’s communities of color, including police bias trainings and restorative justice strategies. Decriminalizing marijuana is the first step to creating a more equitable justice system, but it shouldn’t be the only one.