Minnesota House Democrats plan 15 cannabis conversations

Published 10:38 am Saturday, August 31, 2019

FALCON HEIGHTS — Minnesota House Democrats are hitting the road for a series of town halls on the nuts and bolts of how the state should go about legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.

“We believe that Minnesota can have the best marijuana laws in the country,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said as he kicked off the initiative Thursday at the Minnesota State Fair. “We think it’s vitally important that Minnesotans weigh in directly on this policy change, and we think it’s vitally important that Minnesota gets it right.”

The first three of 15 community conversations dubbed “Be Heard on Cannabis” will be held in Duluth on Sept. 21, Minneapolis on Sept. 25 and St. Cloud on Oct. 12. Future anticipated locations include Austin, Crystal, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Fridley, Hibbing, Mankato, Maple Grove, New Brighton, Rochester, Spring Lake Park and Woodbury. Dates will be announced later.

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While Winkler said his chamber will pass a legalization bill in the 2020 session, that’s probably as far as it will get next year. Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he thinks legalization is a bad idea and won’t happen while the GOP controls the Senate. A Senate committee blocked a marijuana bill during this year’s session.

“We’re discouraging kids from smoking. We’re trying to fight the opioid epidemic. And then, at the same time, we want to legalize pot? To me that just doesn’t make sense,” Gazelka said.

That makes legalization in Minnesota unlikely unless Democrats win control of the Senate in the 2020 elections and maintain control of the House. Democrats now have a comfortable 16-vote majority in the House, while the GOP holds a slim three-vote edge in the Senate.

Democratic Gov. Tim. Walz, who supports legalization, has already told his stage agencies to prepare for legalization in case it happens, taking into account how they’ll need to regulate and tax sales, plus the public safety implications.

“There’s a lot to talk about before we decide whether to go forward, and if we go forward, how to go forward,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman said.

Winkler said Minnesota will have to have to decide whether it wants to catch up with the rest of the nation on the issue. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use.

“As more and more states legalize adult use of cannabis, Minnesota can’t stand on the sidelines and hope it doesn’t happen here,” Winkler said. “That is not a responsible way to address this issue.”