Tevlin: Legalizing pot is this former businessman's passion

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2014 - 9:19 PM

Randy Quast built a hugely successful trucking company, then sold it and retired at age 37. He didn’t become a political activist until police knocked in his door and arrested him.

Quast had smoked marijuana “very discreetly” for years to control anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I would never have had the business success I did if I didn’t use marijuana,” said Quast. “It calms me down when I need it.”

The day that turned him into an activist, he had bought a quarter pound of pot (an atypically large amount for him) from a young dealer. The dealer saw him put the weed into his safe, and pull out the money to pay him.

Quast later ran some errands and came home to find his home surrounded by police cars. Someone had broken into his house and dragged the safe into the yard before being scared off by a neighbor.

Police saw Quast’s new Audi in the garage, and thought they had a major drug dealer. They hauled away the safe, found the 3.5 ounces of pot and returned.

“They were in the yard and had the red dot [laser scope] on me,” said Quast. “I saw them come up to the door with the battering ram.”

Quast called his lawyer. Charges were eventually lowered, and he was given probation.

“I’m a rich white guy,” he said. “That doesn’t happen for a lot of people.”

The incident motivated Quast to help start the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), of which he is now executive director.

Quast sees the legalization of pot in Colorado as a potential tipping point in the push to make weed legal. NORML and other groups will again try to get a law passed allowing medicinal use of marijuana this legislative session. He thinks there is growing support, but is concerned that Gov. Mark Dayton will balk at signing a bill unless law enforcement gets on board.

“I think the Legislature will pass a medical marijuana bill this year,” said Quast. “But will Dayton sign it?”

Quast said police officers he talks to aren’t afraid that legalizing pot will cause more crime. “They don’t want to lose it as a reason for probable cause” to search people and vehicles, he said.

Quast probably isn’t the person you picture when you think about pot advocates. He lives in an exclusive downtown high rise. He is a pilot, and ran a nonprofit that provided free flights to people with serious medical conditions who needed to get to a hospital. During a recent lunch at Icehouse, he was neatly dressed and well spoken. The only giveaway was the small gold marijuana leaf pin on his lapel.

But Quast said he’s not that atypical. Users are from all ages, professions and races, he says. The most recent poll by St. Cloud State University, in fact, show Minnesotans are split almost equally on legalization in general. Asked about allowing marijuana for medical use, however, 76 percent favor it.

Which is why NORML and other proponents such as Minnesotans for Compassionate Care will focus on that during the legislative session that opens Feb. 25.

Quast understands the tactic, but wishes the state could skip directly to simply legalizing marijuana. Making it available for medical use only will create arguments over which illnesses qualify, put doctors in a position to determine pot prescriptions and cause people to fabricate health problems to get the drug.

But legalizing pot has even greater social issues. He knows from experience. While police aggressively went after Quast for his stash, “they didn’t care one bit about the person who broke into my house.” That shows the skewed perceptions about crime and pot use, Quast said.

The latest data shows more than 12,000 pot-related arrests in Minnesota per year, accounting for 68 percent of all narcotics arrests, Quast said. Blacks are much more likely to get arrested for marijuana use. In fact, Hennepin County leads the nation in discriminatory targeting, with blacks accounting for nine times the number of arrests as whites, he said.

“All that for a substance that is safer than cigarettes or alcohol,” Quast said.

Quast has been to Colorado since pot was legalized. “It was wonderful,” he said. “It is so nice when it is not considered contraband.”

Legalization will eventually happen in Minnesota, Quast believes. As with gay marriage, young adults are less concerned with pot use than older Minnesotans by a large margin.

“With our heritage of agriculture and medical innovation, you’d think we’d jump on this,” said Quast. “To say marijuana doesn’t have medical properties is laughable.”

The former businessman intends to see that those who need pot, and eventually those who just want it, will someday see it legalized.

“This is my passion in life,” he said.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702 Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin

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