MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A nationwide debate over the growing acceptance of marijuana has changed Minneapolis police policy.
Police leaders are now directing officers to discontinue stings that target low-level marijuana possession and sales.
It comes in the wake of a recent downtown crackdown targeting open drug dealing.
From January to May, undercover officers made over 100 arrests, including 47 for felony sale of marijuana.
"If you sell one gram of marijuana, it's a felony drug sale," said Hennepin County chief public defender Mary Moriarty.
She says 46 of the 47 people charged in the crackdown were black. Many of them were also poor and homeless, dealing a gram or two just to get by.
"Do they deserve to get felony drug charges simply because they are less fortunate than say kids on college campuses," Moriarty said.
Facing criticism over the arrest numbers, Minneapolis' Police Chief Medaria Arradondo made a stunning policy change.
He told officers to steer petty drug offenders to treatment, counseling and diversion...not jail.
"Mayor [Jacob] Frey has directed us...we will discontinue specific low-level marijuana enforcement," Arradondo said. "And I agree with the mayor's decision."
The public defender's office demands that charges against the 47 people be dropped. Police say they'll work with prosecutors to consider other charging alternatives.
"Too often in society the police and MPD is looked at as the one to solve this problem, and it is far greater than just us," Arradondo said.
County Attorney Mike Freeman issued a statement saying, in part, that his office has begun an immediate review of the remaining cases, adding that they are making new offers to the defendants and are in the process of dismissing them.
Does the new policy mean officers are turning their backs on marijuana laws? What happens with drugs like opioids?
The new policy means that officers will no longer target marijuana specifically.
They will, however, continue to do stings targeting more serious felonies, like opiates and gun possession.
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