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Even state lawmakers open to legalizing marijuana are taking a cautious approach to the issue.
Only one lawmaker spoke at Wednesday’s rally — DFL Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul. Moran said she is alarmed by studies that show blacks in Minnesota are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses. She also is intrigued by the potential for tax revenue. Colorado has seen gushers of revenue come in from heavily taxed marijuana products.
“We could tax it, we could regulate it, we could have more opportunities to make marijuana safe,” Moran said. But she stops well short of sponsoring a legalization bill.
“It’s not an easy subject,” Moran said. “But I would like to get us to a place where the Legislature could start having the conversation.”
Minnesota law also makes legalization harder here than in Colorado or Washington. Both of those states legalized the drug through petition drives that put the question directly before voters statewide. Minnesota does not have an initiative and referendum process, meaning legislators would have to take recorded votes to legalize the drug.
Nationally, the momentum to rehabilitate marijuana’s sketchy image is gaining traction. Supporters are trying hard to do away with references to marijuana, preferring the Latin term “cannabis.”
Twenty states already allow medical marijuana. Voters in Alaska and Oregon may get to weigh in on legalization measures in those states later this year.
Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center in southern California, said it’s too soon to tell whether states that legalize marijuana will reap continued economic benefits. Uncertainty about the response of the federal government also clouds the issue, he said, given that possession or sale of marijuana remains a federal crime.
“There’s a lot we still have to learn,” Kilmer said. “But it’s clear that the conversation has moved from dinner parties and dorm rooms to State Capitols and federal hearing rooms.”
Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049