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Minnesota Groups Bind Together to Oppose Legal Cannabis

With Minnesota set to become the next front in the battle over cannabis legalization, a coalition of opponents is banding together to keep prohibition in place.

Under the straightforward name of “Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization,” the coalition “consists of the Minnesota Trucking Association, the state’s police and peace officers association and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, a policy arm of the Catholic Church of Minnesota, among others,” according to the Associated Press.

The group of likeminded, anti-pot groups is targeting a bill that passed the state House of Representatives last May. That bill would have legalized recreational pot use for adults in Minnesota, while also expunging previous low-level cannabis-related convictions.  

It also would have created “a responsible regulatory structure focused on developing micro-businesses and a craft market… fund[ed] public health awareness, youth access prevention and substance abuse treatment; provide[d] grants, loans, technical assistance and training for small businesses; require[d] testing and labeling of products; restrict[ed] packaging based on dosage size; and allow[ed] limited home grow abilities,” according to a press release last year from Minnesota Democrats.

But after passing the Democratic-controlled House, the legislation went nowhere in the state Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Ryan Hamilton of the Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the “marijuana bill that passed the Minnesota House last session wasn’t a justice bill, it was a marijuana commercialization bill.”

“As we’ve seen from other states that have opened the doors for the marijuana industry, the promises made to justify marijuana legalization rarely come true, particularly for communities of color,” Hamilton said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

The Minnesota legislative session is slated to convene on January 1, and as the Associated Press noted, the bill that passed the state House last May “is technically still alive, though it’s unclear whether Republicans in the Senate will take up the measure.”

The author of that bill, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, is one of the most vocal advocates of marijuana legalization among lawmakers in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“The failed criminalization of cannabis has resulted in a legacy of racial injustice that can no longer go unaddressed,” Winkler said in a statement after the bill was introduced last year. “Adults deserve the freedom to decide whether to use cannabis, and our state government should play an important role in addressing legitimate concerns around youth access, public health, and road safety. Veterans and Minnesotans with serious illnesses like PTSD deserve better access to our medical program, which is not working well for most people. It’s time to legalize, expunge, and regulate.”

According to the Associated Press, Winkler “told the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative at an event on Wednesday [that] his goal is to reexamine parts of the bill this session to improve the proposal and attempt to get senators on board,” but he acknowledged its outlook in the state Senate is “up in the air.”

After Winkler introduced his bill in the state House last year, Republicans in the legislature were dismissive. 

Paul Gazelka, the GOP leader in the state Senate at the time, said at the time that he “would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority.” 

Gazelka stepped down as majority leader in September and is now running to challenge Democratic Governor Tim Walz in this year’s gubernatorial race. It could set the stage for legalization to emerge as a dominant issue in the campaign, with Walz a full-throated supporter of ending pot prohibition. 

“I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes,” Walz said when he ran for governor in 2018.

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