Undercover police officers in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota will no longer make low-level marijuana sales arrests after statistics revealed that nearly all recent pot busts targeted black men.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mayor Jacob Frey announced the immediate policy shift late last week after Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty alerted Frey that out of 47 small-time "weed dealers" caught in sting operations since the beginning of 2018, 46 were black.
"On the dates of the stings, officers are approaching people of color, individuals, and groups, and asking to buy drugs," assistant county public defender Jess Braverman wrote in a May 31 court document. "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."
In the now-ceased sting operations, the MPD focused on one block of Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, where police officers dressed in civilian clothes routinely approached people on the street and asked for marijuana. This year, the only white man arrested in these stings was not approached by officers, but instead walked up to an undercover cop on his own and tried to sell them weed. Because the sale of any amount of weed remains a felony charge in the state of Minnesota, the most minor undercover buys often result in hefty charges, jail time, and a lifelong criminal record.
"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," Moriarty told the Star-Tribune last week.
Responding to the statistics laid out by Moriarty almost immediately, Mayor Frey called a press conference on Thursday of last week, directing Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to end the undercover operations.
Assuring that the new directive would extend past lip service, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that his office would no longer prosecute any minor pot cases brought by undercover sting and that all 47 people charged in those sting operations this year would have their cases dismissed.
"These undercover drug stings by the Minneapolis Police Department occurred without our knowledge," Freeman said in a statement. "Because they occurred over a period of months and were distributed to about a half-dozen of our attorneys for prosecution, we did not detect any pattern."
Statewide, Minnesota allows the sale, possession, and use of medical marijuana for a number of highly-specific qualifying conditions, and also plans to add autism and sleep apnea to that list later this summer. But while the Land of 10,000 Lakes is open to cannabis reform in some areas, the trudge towards comprehensive medical access and recreational legalization have been slow to say the least, with legal issues and industry-wide delays tripping up any patient-focused progress.
The latest example of prohibition-fueled racism led Mayor Frey to call on state legislators to make concrete steps towards statewide legalization.
"I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," Frey said. "The fact that racial disparities are so common nationwide in the enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the reasons I support full legalization."
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