Finally, the Minnesota Legislature may be poised to take a sensible step forward in the regulation of marijuana— and thanks to Iron Range legislator Carly Melin for making it happen.
Melin’s bill, HF 1818, introduced last Thursday in both the House and Senate, with broad bipartisan support, would legalize marijuana for certain medical uses, as prescribed by a doctor. It’s a humane measure that recognizes the by now well-documented therapeutic value of marijuana for a whole host of medical conditions. It’s proven effective for reducing pain and nausea, and as a treatment for the lack of appetite that often accompanies many illnesses or other treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer patients.
Yet for years, outmoded attitudes about marijuana, and lack of leadership at the Legislature, have prevented Minnesotans from accessing this effective therapy without running the risk of prosecution. Fortunately, times appear to be changing— and not just at the Legislature. A new poll by the well-respected Public Policy Polling released last week shows that fully two-thirds of Minnesotans support allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and want Gov. Mark Dayton to sign such legislation into law if the Legislature gives it approval next year.
Minnesota would hardly be trailblazing on this issue. Nineteen other states have already passed similar laws, most through ballot initiatives, but a growing number more recently through legislative action. It’s a reflection of how much public attitudes have changed on the issue, and not just on medical use of marijuana. The Pew Research Center reported last month that a clear majority of Americans now support full legalization of marijuana for private use.
There’s good reason for that opinion. For one, the criminalization of marijuana has been ineffective as a control measure. The so-called War on Drugs has been a colossal and destructive failure, one that has cost society hundreds of billions of dollars for law enforcement and corrections, and has significantly damaged the lives of the millions of Americans caught up in the drug war over the past decades.
The growing number of states that have already legalized the medical use of marijuana provide solid evidence that legalization has little impact on the use of the drug. Those who aren’t inclined to smoke marijuana are not going to do so whether it’s legal or not. And those who choose to use the drug, whether medically or recreationally, simply don’t deserve prosecution since they aren’t endangering anyone, at least when used responsibly.
Recreational use of marijuana use is certainly no more dangerous than the use of alcohol. We learned long ago that Prohibition of alcohol doesn’t work, and only encourages the growth of criminal gangs. Prohibition laws related to marijuana have yielded similar side effects, and did little or nothing to actually limit use. That’s why the public is increasingly turning against marijuana criminalization.
Unfortunately, there is still one powerful special interest that has slowed progress in this area— and that’s the prison industrial complex. The war on drugs sent millions of Americans to prison over the past few decades, converting this nation to a veritable prison state that now incarcerates nearly a quarter of all prisoners in the world. It’s a shameful and shocking reality in a country that was founded on the concept of liberty.
It’s time to turn that page and explore a better path. The bill introduced this past week in the Minnesota Legislature is too late to be considered this session, but its introduction now will spark a much-needed debate on this issue over the next several months.
Unfortunately, Gov. Dayton has, so far, been lukewarm at best to the proposal, suggesting that he won’t sign such a measure without support from law enforcement officials.
That’s ridiculous. We don’t consult law enforcement when physicians prescribe far more addictive and powerful drugs for pain relief and other therapeutic purposes. These are decisions best left to patients and their doctors. Under the bill introduced this past week, that’s a decision that Minnesotans would soon be empowered to make. It’s about time.