The state of marijuana in Minnesota, according to data

As marijuana legalization gradually gains public acceptance across the nation, some Minnesota lawmakers are reconsidering the drug's status. Gov. Tim Walz has expressed support for following the lead of states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California, where recreational cannabis is legal, regulated and taxed.

But Minnesota's current relationship with marijuana is complex.

Cannabis has been decriminalized for possession of small amounts since the 1970s in Minnesota, and available as a treatment for certain medical conditions since 2014. While statewide marijuana arrests have decreased in recent years, significant racial disparities in enforcement persist.

Here's a rundown of where Minnesota stands on marijuana.

Minnesota and a greening America

More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for some medical purposes or for recreational use or sales.

Illegal Medical Recreational Use Recreational Sales

Minnesota has one of the nation’s strictest medical marijuana programs, allowing legal state residents who have been diagnosed with one or more of about a dozen qualifying conditions — including cancer, HIV/AIDS, terminal illness, intractable pain and post-traumatic stress disorder — to ingest cannabis extracts as oils, tinctures, capsules, topical ointments or vapor. Smokable forms of marijuana and edible cannabis food products remain prohibited for medical use in the state. Approved medical cannabis products can only be legally purchased from one of twelve licensed dispensaries serving Minnesota's 87 counties.

For everyone else, possession or sale without remuneration (the exchange of money) of less than 42.5 grams of marijuana was decriminalized in Minnesota in 1976, meaning a first offense is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $200 fine and possible drug education. Additional infractions may face increased penalties. Possession of larger quantities of marijuana or the sale of any amount is a felony in Minnesota.

Substantial tax revenue

States with legalized recreational cannabis sales have collected significant tax revenue, which may include revenue from taxes, licenses and fees from their marijuana industries.

FY 2018 tax revenue, recreational cannabis sales (in millions)

However, while the federal government has tolerated legal marijuana sales at the state level, federal law continues to classify marijuana as a prohibited Schedule One drug, meaning it has no accepted medical value and high potential for abuse. As a result, many legal cannabis businesses in these states face various operational challenges, such as lacking access to banks that are wary of potential legal repercussions for doing business with them.

Changing attitudes

A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted in February 2014 found just 30 percent of Minnesotans favored full legalization of recreational marijuana, with 63 percent opposed. Meanwhile, 51 percent supported legalization for medical uses. However, more recent surveys suggest the tide may be turning.

Support for legal recreational cannabis has grown consistently for several decades in the U.S., according to the Gallup Poll, reaching a new high of 66 percent in October 2018. That survey found majorities in support across all age groups, including 78 percent of Americans age 18 to 34. Legalization was popular across party lines as well, according to Gallup, with 72 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents and 51 percent of Republicans in favor. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in September 2018 found 62 percent of Americans in support of recreational pot, with 34 percent opposed.

While acceptance of legalized marijuana has been on the rise nationwide, Gallup found support in the Midwest (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas) grew more inconsistently — though still increased from 40 percent in 2009 to 65 percent in 2018.

Support for marijuana legalization

Declining arrests, steady convictions

While the number of marijuana arrests in Minnesota remained more or less flat through much of the last decade, there has been a significant decrease in arrests since 2014.

Minnnesota marijuana arrests by year

Meanwhile, the number of annual petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor marijuana convictions and remained relatively flat over a six-year period — though felonies have gradually increased.

Minnesota marijuana convictions by year

Law enforcement in Minnesota seized nearly twice as much illicit cannabis in 2017 than in 2016. Agents also seized nearly 100 times more hashish or marijuana wax — which contain high levels of psychoactive THC — in 2017 compared with 2013. In recent years, Minnesota agents say they have noticed marijuana is increasingly smuggled from states where the drug is legal, Statewide Gang and Drug Coordinator Brian Marquart told the Star Tribune in 2018.

Deep racial disparities

Black people and American Indians represented disproportionate percentages of convicted marijuana offenders in 2016 across Minnesota, compared with their overall percentage of the population.

Race of 2016 marijuana offenders

A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found black people were about eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Minnesota than whites (and nine times more likely in Minneapolis), even though usage rates are roughly the same.

In 2018, the city of Minneapolis announced the cessation of small-scale marijuana stings after a report showed that 46 out of 47 suspects arrested were black.