The Potluck

Minnesota Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana

By: - February 1, 2021 1:42 pm

A worker cares for plants at Essence Vegas’ marijuana cultivation facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

House Democratic lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to legalize marijuana in Minnesota, arguing the state should end the black market for the drug and create a tax and regulatory framework for cannabis.

“The issue of legalizing cannabis, creating a fair and regulated marketplace, addressing deep inequities in our criminal justice system, is a mainstream, bipartisan broadly-supported issue,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, the chief sponsor.  

South Dakota voters recently approved legalizing marijuana. A Gallup poll after the election last year found that two-thirds of Americans polled say marijuana should be legalized.

The legislation is unlikely to pass the Republican-majority Senate, however, and not just because of their philosophical opposition. 

Minnesota is home to two major political parties advocating legalization. As the Reformer reported in 2020, Republicans recruited candidates to run under the marijuana party banners in hopes of siphoning votes away from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In several close races, marijuana candidates won significant tallies. That pattern will likely continue as long as marijuana remains illegal. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement he does “not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority.”

He added: “My main concerns are the unintended consequences of recreational pot similar to the concerns we all have about tobacco, drinking, or prescription drug abuse. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.”

At a Monday news conference at the Capitol, Winkler and other advocates said that if approved, this policy would help ease racial disparities in drug arrests and incarceration. The bill would expunge most cannabis convictions, among other changes.

Fifteen states have so far legalized marijuana, while many others like Minnesota have continued debating the issue. 

Joining Winkler were state Reps. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Jessica Hanson, DFL-Burnsville and state Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, also spoke in favor of the legislation.

Despite GOP opposition in the Senate, some House Republicans have come out in support of the effort. 

“Members of all political parties should work together towards implementing a better regulatory model to address the expensive, inefficient, and unfair prohibition on marijuana,” state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said in a statement. “Contrary to what some will say, this is not a partisan issue. Many Republicans are interested in reforming these expensive laws.”

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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