Medicinal marijuana became legal in Minnesota in 2014. However, it bans using the plant form and is only available to residents with a handful of severe conditions. But on Thursday, some DFL lawmakers in St. Paul pushed to make recreational marijuana legal too. Their amendment would approve recreational use for people aged 21 and over.
A press conference was held at the State Office Building in St. Paul on Thursday where a group of legislators discussed giving Minnesotans a voice in the future of marijuana laws. Four state representatives: Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL- Rochester), Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL - Virginia), Rep. John Applebaum (DFL - Minnetonka), and Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL - St. Paul) presented their proposed amendment.
"This is about giving Minnesotans a right that I believe they should have and I think they believe they should have," said Rep.Tina Liebling.
They said the goal of their proposed amendment was to get a conversation started. "We want to get all this input from people all over the state whether you're opposed, for, or neutral on this issue," said Rep. Jason Metsa.
But some Republicans like Rep. Tony Cornish (R - Vernon Center) are not ready to lend an ear to that conversation just yet. "People have thought of the idea before, this isn't new. Legalized drugs, legalized prostitution...tax it, spend the money for great purposes -- I just don't think that's a great idea."
Even though eight states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, it is still a long uphill battle in Minnesota.
Proponents said recreational marijuana would be a great economic opportunity for Minnesota. "Just the billion dollar opportunity that we have here in the state of Minnesota: to create a made-in-Minnesota economy where farmers can grow cannabis products, Minnesota businesses can distribute cannabis, and Minnesota small businesses can sell it," said Rep. John Applebaum. "Marijuana use has been happening for a very long time. Anywhere from 10 to 20% of Minnesotans use it regularly so we should capitalize on it." He went on to cite the economic boom experienced in Colorado and Washington.
Representative Liebling compared the current prohibition of marijuana to the prohibition of alcohol back in the 1920s. "If we compare the harm of marijuana... it's a pretty safe drug, nobody's died of an overdose. On the other hand, alcohol has a lot of harmful impacts." However, that does not mean she believes the drug is harmless. "I don't believe it's harmless, but I do believe that prohibition of cannabis is much more harmful than the cannabis itself. We don't prohibit alcohol. We tried in this country and it was dismal failure, it increased crime and made criminals out of innocent people. We're doing something similar with cannabis and we need to stop."
Meanwhile marijuana opponents said members of the Democratic party are looking at it the wrong way. "I hear a lot of people saying that [alcohol prohibition is the same as marijuana prohibition] and they tell me about all the carnage alcohol has created in families and dependency and addiction problems. So where in the world is the logic of adding one more problem to that? That's a poor excuse," said Rep. Cornish. Interestingly enough, one DFL member who is not on board with recreational marijuana use is Governor Mark Dayton.
Representative Metsa and Representative Liebling's amendment would have to go through Rep. Cornish's committee where he serves as chairman. He said when the amendment gets there he will not give it a hearing. Since the legislature is controlled by Republicans, it could be quite some time before an amendment like this would go through.
The battle over the legalization of marijuana has been going on for years, and will not let up anytime soon. "This will rage on until they can finally convince people that it's a good deal, but for now they haven't," said Rep. Cornish.
Even though the amendment will likely die before it can get a hearing, the authors of the amendment want Minnesotans to speak up. Representative Metsa said he hopes Thursday's press conference will cause voters to call their legislators, flooding their inboxes with their thoughts on legalizing recreational marijuana. That way politicians can start a conversation and meet with law enforcement, doctors, attorneys, and get more studies performed in order to put together the best bipartisan proposal they can.