Wisconsin’s neighbor to the west is similar in population size, political, social, and educational demographics and geography. Yet, law enforcement officers in Minnesota arrest half as many individuals for marijuana possession each year as those in Wisconsin. This simple reality raises two important questions: why does Wisconsin focus so much more on marijuana possession arrests than Minnesota, and is Wisconsin better or worse off as a result?

In 2010 alone, more than 16,000 individuals were arrested in Wisconsin for simple possession of marijuana. Minnesota arrested fewer than 7,500 individuals on the same charges in that same year. Interestingly, there is no other statistic concerning drug arrests that varies widely between the states. Only in regards to simple possession of marijuana is there such disparity between the two states.

Marijuana use is slightly higher in Minnesota than in Wisconsin, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. This statistic cements the argument that it is the behavior of law enforcement with respect to this particular drug charge that characterizes the difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Why does law enforcement crack down so aggressively on simple marijuana possession in the Dairy State? The answer to this question is not immediately clear. What is clear, however, is that there is a racial disparity in who ultimately gets arrested in Wisconsin, that simple marijuana possession charges have significant human and financial costs and that whatever is fueling this crackdown should be rethought because of these reasons.

Please check back later this week as we explore each of these issues in turn.

Source: American Civil Liberties Union, “What if Wisconsin Arrested Half as Many People for Marijuana Possession?” Alex Stamm, Sept. 26, 2012

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