Minnesota groups unite to oppose marijuana legalization

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A budtender, right, shows cannabis buds to a customer at a marijuana dispensary in Desert Hot Springs, Calif.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

Several businesses, trade groups and social organizations announced the formation of a coalition on Monday opposing legalization of recreational marijuana in Minnesota as the measure's supporters signal another push for the issue ahead of the start of the legislative session next week.

The proposal passed in the Democratic-controlled House last session with several Republican votes after picking up support from some GOP lawmakers during its trek through a dozen committees, making it the first time either chamber had voted on the issue. The bill would legalize marijuana use for adults, as well as expunge minor cannabis convictions in an effort to remedy inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions among white and Black residents despite similar usage rates.

The coalition, called Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, 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.

The groups echoed the concerns of Republican lawmakers that the potential for more drivers under the influence and a lack of roadside tests for marijuana for law enforcement would make roadways less safe. They also fear that increased marijuana use could lead to failed drug tests in employment settings and impairment in the workplace, which would worsen worker shortages already experienced due to the pandemic.

"The marijuana bill that passed the Minnesota House last session wasn't a justice bill, it was a marijuana commercialization bill," said Ryan Hamilton of the Minnesota Catholic Conference during a Monday news conference. “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.”

The bill is technically still alive, though it's unclear whether Republicans in the Senate will take up the measure. Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, the bill’s chief author, told the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative at an event on Wednesday said his goal is to reexamine parts of the bill this session to improve the proposal and attempt to get senators on board, though a floor vote in the Senate remains “up in the air,” he said.

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager at Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, said she thinks the chances the bill sees a floor vote or a hearing in the GOP-controlled Senate are “next to zero." But, she said, the issue is popular with voters regardless of political party and the election later this year will allow voters to hold lawmakers accountable.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults to varying degrees, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Minnesota is one of many states that allow medical marijuana, but its restrictions are some of the country’s strictest.

In even-numbered years, lawmakers are traditionally tasked with building an infrastructure borrowing package known as the bonding bill, but an enormous projected $7.7 billion surplus will be the focus when the session convenes on Jan. 31.

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