Recently, two Minnesota lawmakers introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. If this law passes, Minnesota would join eight other states and the District of Columbia that permit the legal sale and use of marijuana. These states include Colorado, Washington, California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine.
Second-term Minnetonka Representative Jon Applebaum of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party cites the growing support for marijuana legalization across the United States, especially among millennials. He says that legalization is inevitable and discussion should begin immediately. Applebaum’s bill would permit adults over age 21 to buy, possess, and use up to one ounce of marijuana while also regulating growing, harvesting, and retail sales—by 2019.
Applebaum seeks to regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state and wants tax revenues from marijuana sales used to fund public schools. He claims a future “billion dollar ‘Made in Minnesota’ marijuana economy” in which production, distribution, and sales are all Minnesota-centric.
A second legalization bill introduced by Rochester Representative Tina Liebling—also of the DFL party—seeks to legalize marijuana via constitutional amendment. She thinks Minnesota voters should decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana and wants subsequent revenue directed toward chemical dependency and mental health education and treatment.
Liebling asserts that Minnesota’s marijuana prohibition is “costly, harmful and antiquated” with enforcement costing the state from $42 to $137 million annually. When compared to the nearly $700 million per year Minnesotans spend on cannabis products—largely through the black market—Liebling claims that the people should decide whether or not to go down the same successful and rather profitable road taken by other states who have enjoyed positive results from cannabis legalization.
Medical Marijuana in Minnesota
Even though medical marijuana—the use of cannabis derivatives for specific medical conditions such as epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—has been legal in Minnesota since 2014, the state’s law is one of the most restrictive among the 28 states that have also legalized medical cannabis. Consequently, Minnesota’s medical marijuana program has been facing budgetary struggles.
Opposition and Controversy
Opponents to statewide legalization assert that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads to “harder” drug use, addiction and crime. Additionally, the federal government continues to keep marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance—akin to heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), peyote, methaqualone, and 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA/Ecstasy).
Since both bills’ introductions and initial readings on 9 February, neither have received much support save for a few co-authors joining the bill.
Experts claim these proposals will likely fail in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature despite the nine democrats on board for trying to pass some sort of legalization legislation.
Vernon Center Representative Tony Cornish (R)—who is also chair of the House Public Safety Committee—asserts that while he has listened to people on both sides of the debate, the fact that law enforcement, parents, and drug counselors have expressed their disapproval gives him pause.
Similarly, Farmington Representative Pat Garofalo (R) says that he is simply not impressed with the Democrats’ proposal and asserts that their proposal does not demonstrate adequate seriousness, consideration, and deliberation.
Additionally, Governor Mark Dayton (D) states he does not support either bill. Dayton says that his reluctance is a result of law enforcement’s concern over legalization. He further says he is not sure whether legalizing would even rise to the level of necessitating a constitutional amendment. Yet, he is curious as to the extent of legalization support in the state. While he recognizes that public opinion has “probably changed” he does not know to what extent.
Conversely, Democratic lawmakers like St. Paul Representative Alice Hausman argue that marijuana criminalization has serious real-life implications, particularly with the spate of incarcerated individuals serving time for simple marijuana possession and use.
Only time will tell if these bills gain any momentum in the legislature or if it’s back to the bipartisan drawing board.