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Minnesota’s most common drug offenses aren’t for opioids – they're for meth

This is Minnesota's biggest drug problem. Why aren't we talking about it more?

This is Minnesota's biggest drug problem. Why aren't we talking about it more? Getty Images/iStockphoto

In November, the Cannon River Drug Task Force busted into a house in north Minneapolis.

They found some cash, more than an ounce of tar heroin, a sawed-off shotgun, and nearly 200 pounds of methamphetamine. It’s now known as the largest meth bust in state history. If the stuff had been sold on the street, it probably would have been worth more than $8 million.

Here in the Midwest, and nationally, the opioid crisis has taken center stage. Lately there’s been a lot of discussion about marijuana, too -- specifically whether our new Governor-Elect Tim Walz will help legalize it. But according to federal sentencing statistics compiled by Detox.net, meth possession is Minnesota’s most common drug offense.

We’re far from alone. About 30 states have the same problem, including every state bordering us -- with the key exception of Wisconsin, which is struggling more often with heroin. About 37 percent of offenses committed in our state in 2017 were drug-related, and 74 percent of all drug arrests that year were for meth. Compare that to marijuana, which represents only 3 percent of all offenses.

And yet, somehow, meth seems to continually slip under the radar. It could be because we’re still reeling from the aforementioned opioid crisis and trying to figure out how to address it as a matter of public health. But in part, it might be because we feel like we’ve been here before.

Meth was the big bad drug of the day about 10 years ago, until Minnesota passed a series of laws to crack down on makeshift meth labs. These days, it’s having a renaissance of sorts. A third of all Minnesota counties are reporting that more people are seeking treatment for meth addiction than alcoholism.

This is largely because it’s so much cheaper now. Seven years ago, back in its hellion days, meth sold for about $20,000 a pound. Now it’s more like $4,000 or $5,000, and it packs a much more potent punch than the old stuff.

The majority of states in the nation may share a common enemy, but we don’t share much more than that -- not, at least, when it comes to our respective approaches to drug abuse.

The average sentence for a drug-related offense differs wildly from state to state, according to the Detox.net compilation. In Minnesota, drug offenders can expect to be locked up for an average of 97 months. Compare that to our fellow states battling meth abuse: California’s average sentence is 38 months, and Iowa’s is 111 (it takes the cake for the harshest drug-related sentences in the nation).

So far, Minnesota’s approach to stopping this latest wave of meth is trying to nip it in the bud -- stop large shipments coming in from Mexico before they’re distributed. Which may be why they’re making bigger busts than ever, finding quantities of ice that would have made them blush in 2007.

But it pales in comparison to the $100 billion or so worth of illegal drugs sold annually in the United States, as estimated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. What Minnesota is seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.