Minnesota lawmakers introduced a new bill on Monday to both houses of the state legislature that would end marijuana prohibition in the state and establish a regulated market.
The new bill would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess, grow and purchase marijuana. In addition, the state would license and regulate businesses to cultivate, process, test and sell marijuana to adults. The bill is sponsored by State Senators Melisa Franzen and Scott Jensen, and its companion bill was filed by Rep. Mike Freiberg in the state’s House of Representatives.
“Minnesota’s outdated prohibition policy has become more of a problem than a solution,” Freiberg said in a statement. “It is forcing marijuana into a shady underground market, which creates more potential harm for consumers and communities than marijuana itself. Regulating marijuana would make our state safer by removing the criminal element and empowering our state and local governments to start controlling production and sales.”
Minnesota currently has a restrictive medical marijuana program, with only 10 severe qualifying conditions and no allowance for smokable marijuana.
Following the legalization bill’s introduction on Jan. 28, supporters at Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation released a statement highlighting some of the benefits of the proposed law. First, they celebrated that the Minnesota Department of Health would be empowered to regulate dispensaries and implement seed-to-sale tracking. Municipalities would be able to regulate all aspects of production and sales locally.
Second, supporters noted the victims of Minnesota’s current cannabis prohibition are not forgotten in the new effort. The bill would allow for the expungement of certain marijuana-related crimes from the records of people with past offenses. It would also dedicate $10 million annually to impoverished communities. Many of those communities disproportionately bore the impact of the War on Drugs.
“Our focus in drafting legislation to end the prohibition of cannabis in Minnesota is to ensure we have a responsible regulatory model for consumer access that still provides for public health, safety and welfare,” Franzen said. “The time has come for us to have this debate.”
The Marijuana Policy Project notes if Minnesotans continue to use cannabis at current rates, the regulated sales of cannabis could net the state coffers between $200 million and $300 million, based on Colorado prices.
Recent polling before the 2018 election found 67 percent of Minnesota voters under the age of 50 support legal cannabis. But even when you include older demographics, the numbers still come out in favor of legalization — with 56 percent in support.
“It is time for Minnesota to recognize that, like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, its prohibition of marijuana does not work,” said Jason Tarasek, Minnesota political director for the Marijuana Policy Project and co-founder of Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation. “By legalizing marijuana and carefully regulating its sale, we can keep it out of the hands of teens without needlessly arresting responsible adult consumers. This would allow law enforcement to spend more time addressing serious crimes, while also creating a significant new revenue stream for our state.”
Minnesota’s Prohibition Policing Problems
Cannabis policing in Minnesota has not been without controversy. Recently, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey directed the city’s police department to end sting operations against low-level marijuana sales. Frey acted in response to concerns that black men were being disproportionately targeted for enforcement. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo later acknowledged that his undercover officers arrested dozens of African-American men just for selling small amounts of marijuana. It could best be described as a backhanded acknowledgment.
“We took a look back and we analyzed and we saw that while we were making the arrests and we were keeping guns off the streets down there, we were seeing a segment of the population that was being disproportionately impacted,” the chief said in a press conference, days after the mayor raised concerns. He also said black people weren’t targeted.
While African Americans make up a little over 18 percent of the city’s residents, 46 of the 47 people arrested for selling pot during the sting were black and low-income, MPR News reported. According to public defenders, those people were also grossly overcharged for the cannabis in their possession.
“But by virtue of the fact that police were approaching people and buying one or two grams, those people wound up getting charged by the county attorney’s office with felony drug sale,” said Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County’s Chief Public Defender told MPR News. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Moriarty was the one who originally contacted the mayor.
Charges against all 47 people caught up in the sting were dismissed, the Star Tribune reported.
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