A bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators made an impassioned plea last week, hoping to build political momentum for the legalization of medical marijuana in the Gopher State.

While neither Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher nor GOP Minority Leader Marty Seifert have endorsed such a bill on the House side, neither have stated opposition to any such legislation – and Seifert believes such a measure would probably pass on the floor. In the Senate, the bill sailed through the Health, Housing and Family Security Committee by an 8-3 vote.

A successful legislative-led legalization effort would be a rarity in the U.S. – only Hawaii (2000), Vermont (2004), Rhode Island (2006), and New Mexico (2007) have done so previously. Nine other states – all but one in the West – have passed medical marijuana initiatives: Arizona (1996), California (1996), Alaska (1998), Oregon (1998), Washington (1998), Maine (1999), Colorado (2000), Nevada (2000), and Montana (2004).

Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty remains committed to veto any such legislation, however, in stated deference to the positions held by law enforcement organizations, such as the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, which remain opposed to any form of marijuana legalization in the state.

To what extent is marijuana use a public safety issue in the Gopher State and what are the current trends in law enforcement efforts?

Smart Politics compiled crime data in Minnesota from 2001 through 2007 and found both the arrest rate for marijuana and the percent of narcotic arrests that involve marijuana are recently on the decline.

In 2001, Minnesota’s marijuana 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 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).

Is this change the result of a substantial, declining statewide use of the drug? Not likely.

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.

Marijuana and Narcotics Arrests in Minnesota, 2001-2007

Marijuana arrests
Marijuana arrest rate
Narcotics arrests
Narcotics arrest rate
Percent marijuana arrests

Note: Arrest rate per 100,000 residents.
Sources: Arrest data and rates compiled from the Minnesota Uniform Crime Reports (Minnesota Department of Public Safety) with population estimates from the Office of Geographic and Demographic Analysis (Minnesota Department of Administration).


  1. Being Goode on February 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

    “The War on Drugs” Brought to you by the Nixon administration.
    Billions and billions of dollars have been spent on this “war on drugs” It has not produced a negligible decrease in usage nor has its affected the availability to our citizens. As long as there is demand for marijuana, the market place will provide the product. What has increased is the building of prisons, the staffing of prisons and increased budgets for law enforcement. It would appear to me that the “war on drugs” has its own “economic stimulus” to the law enforcement industry. The majority of the current prison population is for drug offenders.

    I would think that spending money on education and drug prevention would go a long way (over time) to reducing consumption. The bottom line is that there is no end in sight until you reduce the demand for the product This is no different than the war on booze during prohibition. We can all see the results of that endeavor.

    Keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result would seem to be a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. Where are all the fiscal hawks on this boondoggle?

    Our current state Governor would like to refinance our current state debt (credit card) and reduce taxes for business
    without offsetting the reduction in tax revenue with a tax increase on goods and services as recommended by his own commission. Then you have the accounting shifts and then magically we have solved our deficit. (kicked the can down the road till next year.) Aah I digress.

    Sadly our Governor cannot see any further forward than Iowa in 2012. So much for leadership and vision. I think that it will take real courage and leadership to move this decriminalization bill forward. Something we sadly lack at the top right now.

  2. Brian Lee on September 28, 2009 at 7:02 am

    I am interested in arrest statistics throughout the states that have legalized medical marijuana. Do you know of a place that might compile medical marijuana arrests versus non-medical marijuana arrests?



  3. Ryan on November 10, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I would like to see a long term study comparing the arrest rates and medical complication from the use of alcohol vs. the use of marijuana.

    It boggles the mind, the amount of money spent on policing, and incarceration of people using marijuana. Where would we be today had the war been on poor education rather than drugs?


  4. Mary (Legal Bud Reviews) on December 2, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve read a study that sited an increase in marijuana usage in the early 80’s when anti-marijuana commercials were aired during Saturday morning cartoons. Marijuana may not have been known to kids without a gov’t PSA telling them not to do it, and to “Just say No.” In essence, insighting curiosity, creating more users than preventing, and more future arrests and incarcerations. Ironic and a terrific reason for this benign substance to be legalized.

  5. Addison on December 28, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I could have called this. Of course the law is going to be less interested in arresting people for something they view might be a waste of money in the near future. I’m just glad people are finally starting to come around about all of this stuff and getting their smarts on. 🙂

  6. Rich on February 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Medical Marijuana has helped a very good friend of mine through some major back pains. He had two disc’s in his back explode as a result of a car and it has helped relieve the pain. Here in Michigan it can be used in the medical field and I have saw first hand that it can help out with the healing process

  7. K2spice on March 31, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    If you ask me, it should be legal. That is alot of tax payers money, going to non violent crimes.

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