Legal marijuana backer says there’s no conflict with anti-vaping push

Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a Los Angeles not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006.
David McNew | Getty Images

Minnesota lawmakers are trying to crack down on vaping at the same time many of them are pushing to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Some opponents of the legalization push see that as a contradiction, given recent cases of illness and death resulting from the use of electronic cigarettes. Many of the cases have also been linked to people vaping products that contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

A key supporter of the legal cannabis effort contends there is no conflict.

Both issues share a similar public health goal, said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

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“If you look at vaping issues and the illness and death that’s been caused, it’s primarily the result of people not knowing what they’re getting in the products they’re consuming, and because there isn’t a well-regulated marketplace,” Winkler said. “So, what we’re trying to do with cannabis is create a responsible, well-regulated marketplace.”

Winkler has been traveling the state holding public discussions about cannabis ahead of the 2019 session. He said he does not believe it’s a mistake to have discussions while concerns are rising about vaping.

“We need to be able to have a public policy conversation and get feedback from Minnesotans about all of these issues,” he said.

Winkler expects the House to pass a legalization measure next year. DFL Gov. Tim Walz supports legalization. But the Republican-controlled Senate does not.

“It would be wise for us to be slow on this issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

Gazelka says he doesn’t expect to take up cannabis legalization in 2020 after a Senate panel rejected the issue last session. But Gazelka is open to efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes among young people, such as a proposed increase in the purchasing age from 18 to 21.

“I can understand why people could fall on both sides of it, but I think I’m going to be lining up concerned about both of those issues.”