Minnesota lawmakers have started developing proposals to legalize marijuana. They are hoping to have the question posed to Minnesota voters in a ballot next year as opposed to going through legislature. 8 states have now legalized recreational marijuana and many more are jumping on board this year to make it happen in their state. While other states are prepared to try and pass it through legislature this year in an effort to move things along as quickly as possible, Minnesota lawmakers want to present it to the people to decide. With multiple legalization proposals in the works, it’s likely that at least one will reach the ballot and allow the public to decide.
Asking for the Public Opinion
Gov. Mark Dayton, who is a Democrat, says he doesn’t support the legalization of marijuana because law enforcement doesn’t support it but he is still interested in the public’s opinion. “I do like the idea of asking the people of Minnesota… if there’s really an overwhelming popular will for that, that would be something to consider,” he said. “Probably public opinion has changed, I don’t know to what extent.”
39% of Minnesota Drug Arrests are Marijuana Related
In 2016, there were 6,829 Minnesota residents arrested for possessing marijuana. The figure makes up 39 percent of drug arrests in the state. On top of this, despite usage levels being the same, African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be arrested than white people. An arrest for marijuana possession has the potential to ruin a person’s life as well as the life of their family. On top of lost wages from jail time and court costs, it may be difficult for the person to get work, housing and education in the future.
Comparison to Alcohol Prohibition
Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) is one of the lawmakers in favor of legalizing marijuana. She compared it to alcohol prohibition, saying, “We tried that in this country in a grand experiment — which was a dismal failure. It increased crime, it made criminals out of all kinds of different people. We’re doing something similar with cannabis, and we need to stop.”
Opening a Statewide Discourse on Minnesota Marijuana
As of 3 years ago, Minnesota legalized medical marijuana and they currently have a strict program in place, making them one of the 28 states with medical cannabis programs. In general, Minnesota doesn’t vote on statewide ballot questions. It does, however, vote on constitutional amendments, so lawmakers are taking this approach. For the most part, they don’t necessarily expect the proposals to pass, but their intention is to begin a statewide discussion about the topic. Lawmakers are hoping that in beginning a discussion, a reasonable direction towards ending prohibition will emerge.
In general, there is a desire to stop people’s lives being ruined over marijuana possession as well as capitalize on the financial advantages of legalizing the plant. Studies speculate that approximately 21 percent of Minnesota residents smoke marijuana, purchasing it through the black market. Once the conversation opens up around the topic, the situation is likely to evolve, as a clear understanding of the plant, the marijuana industry and public opinion will be clear.