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City Council Mulls Relaxing Mpls. Marijuana Ordinance

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minneapolis City Council will decide this week whether possessing small amounts of marijuana will be considered a crime.

Under the current city ordinance, someone caught with amount of marijuana less than 42.5 grams could be convicted of a misdemeanor. The terms include a possible $200 fine, jail and a criminal record.

The proposed change would make possession of the same amount of pot a petty misdemeanor, in compliance with current state law.

Minneapolis City Council member Jacob Frey, co-sponsor for the proposed change, believes using the state law will help address issues of racial disparities in Minneapolis.

"Crimes and permanent marks on your record should be reserved to matters that are really injurious to society," Frey said. "And simply having a joint on your person is not that."

In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted a study that found black citizens were nearly eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The city of Minneapolis says most small possession charges are already brought under the state statute rather than the city ordinance, which was last amended in 1979.

"What we want to do it take away the ability to charge someone under the more serious city ordinance," Frey said.

Kurtis Hanna, co-founder of the non-profit Sensible Minnesota, has worked with city lawmakers for the last five years to try to decriminalize marijuana. Hanna personally lobbied for the proposed change in Minneapolis rules.

"We think that it is proof in and of itself that cannabis is a very safe substance, especially compared to tobacco or alcohol, and that it shouldn't be criminalized more so," Hanna said.

Hanna is hopeful a change in Minneapolis rules would have far-reaching implications.

"The hope would be that the Minnesota legislature would expand what a 'small amount' of cannabis is," Hanna said.

The council will vote to approve the change on Friday. If passed, it would go into effect almost immediately.

WCCO reached out to the Minneapolis Police Department for comment and was told the department doesn't comment on matters before the city council.

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