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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Time to act on cannabis

If lawmakers won't take up marijuana legalization, let the voters decide

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It’s a rare thing when one can say that South Dakota is ahead of Minnesota, but such is the case after voters next door resoundingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana on Nov. 4.
Fifty percent more South Dakotans voted for the measure than voted for Joe Biden for president, shredding any notion that this was anything other than a bipartisan rejection of the failure of prohibition and an affirmation that the state will benefit from having a legally regulated
marijuana industry.
After a failed attempt in 2016, Arizona approved recreational use of marijuana as well, as did voters in New Jersey. Awaiting final certification, it appears Montana will be the fourth state to ratify recreational marijuana use this election cycle.
Nearly a third of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have now approved such measures after Colorado and Washington became the first in 2012, and the trend is undeniable– when voters are given the choice, they choose legalization.
So why is Minnesota dragging its heels? Polls show more than half of registered voters in the state support legalizing recreational use, with barely a third registering opposition. Two political parties in favor of recreational cannabis have built followings in the state potent enough to draw enough votes to affect the outcomes of legislative races.
Maybe it has something to do with the state’s long history with Prohibition. A Minnesota Congressman wrote the law enacting the 13-year federal constitutional ban on alcohol, an act that failed so miserably that it was the first and only time a constitutional amendment has been repealed. Yet today, Minnesota remains the only state in the nation that still clings to a Prohibition-era law forbidding grocery and convenience stores from selling anything stronger than 3.2 beer.
Surely it can’t be because of a careful and balanced analysis of the experience in other states. Like the naysayers of the 1930s who grossly misrepresented the “dangers” of cannabis using inflammatory and racially-charged rhetoric to criminalize its use, those who seek today to preserve a failed system of marijuana prohibition cherry pick and inflate the negatives they can find beyond any reasonable measure.
What opponents fail to admit is that the prohibition model on marijuana has been an utter failure. Criminalization of marijuana use and possession ruins lives, encourages gang activity, costs taxpayers dearly for law enforcement and corrections, and accomplishes nothing. Recreational use of marijuana is so widespread in the state, it’s doubtful legalization would expand its use.
No one can claim legalizing marijuana for recreational use is risk free. Such an assertion would be foolish and irresponsible. But through the democratic process the people have overwhelming accepted the well-documented dangers and consequences of alcohol use, and no one is calling for a return to the days of Prohibition. Likewise, the nation has accepted the use of tobacco products and the enormous cost in money and lives that entails.
Support in Minnesota and the country has relentlessly grown for legalizing the recreational use of cannabis to the point that two-thirds of Americans now say it should be legal. The time has come for the question to get a full hearing in Minnesota in the manner any such issue deserves in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
DFLers already favor legalization, but it’s been Republican legislators who have lined up in opposition. These are the same GOP lawmakers touting personal freedom when it comes to wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Where’s their concern for personal freedom when it comes to the use of cannabis, which certainly doesn’t pose the public health risks associated with COVID-19?
Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler in May introduced a 227-page bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana which would create a regulatory structure focused on developing micro-businesses and a craft market, provide for expungement of most cannabis convictions, require testing and labeling of products, provide funding for public health awareness, youth access prevention, and substance abuse addiction and treatment, build on best practices from other states, and more.
“Minnesotans have been loud and clear that our current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” Winkler said, while deferring consideration of the bill until after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Provided the pandemic is waning when the Legislature next convenes, Winkler’s bill and the wishes of a majority of Minnesotans deserve not only serious consideration, but affirmative action. If lawmakers are unwilling to vote on it themselves, put it on the ballot and let the voters decide. If Republicans won’t support that, they should quit talking about personal freedom. Period. There’s only so much hypocrisy Minnesotans can stand.

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