Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota have struggled to build political momentum at the Capitol this year, but that isn't stopping advocates of legal recreational use from pushing for more liberal state laws governing the drug.
Several hundred supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday, chanting "Yes We Cannabis" as they push to add Minnesota to a growing nationwide movement that has recently seen the drug decriminalized in Colorado and Washington state . The rally was organized by the Minnesota chapter of NORML, a nationwide group trying to capitalize on that success around the country.
"It's a whole untapped industry," said Randy Quast, executive director of Minnesota NORML and a member of the national organization's board. "The thing is, the trade is going on. Marijuana is easy to get and as potent as ever."
Minnesota NORML now has three paid employees, a network of several thousand volunteers, and in recent months opened field offices in Duluth, Rochester, Brainerd, Bemidj, St. Cloud, New Ulm and Morris. Nathan Ness, the director of organizing, said the group raised about $100,000 last year, with a goal of raising more and eventually making contributions in state legislative campaigns to lawmakers who support full-scale legalization.
It will be an uphill climb. Lawmakers who support medical marijuana are extremely reluctant to back full-scale legalization, fearing it could drag down their own efforts to get access to the drug for adults and children with serious medical conditions.
"Medicinal use and recreational use are two distinct things," said Rep. Dan Schoen, a Democrat from St. Paul Park and a police officer who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill. "Medical marijuana detractors are going to be looking at the full legalization folks to do something radical or out of the norm, so they can point at them and say, 'See? That's why we can't do this.'"
Only one state lawmaker, DFL Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul, spoke at Wednesday's rally. She said she's alarmed by studies showing blacks in Minnesota are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses, and intrigued by the tax revenue that legalizing marijuana would reap for the state.
"We could tax it, we could regulate it, we could have more opportunities to make marijuana safe," Moran said. But even she is not ready to sponsor a bill for full-scale legalization.
"It's not an easy subject," Moran said. "But I would like us to get to a place where the Legislature could start having the conversation."
A wide-ranging measure that promotes equal pay for women and protections for pregnant and nursing women as well as victims of domestic abuse cleared the Minnesota Senate by a wide margin Wednesday.
The Women’s Economic Security Act passed 51-14 after about an hour’s debate. The Act, consisting of nine bills, is geared toward evening the playing field for Minnesota’s women workers at a cost of $2.7 million.
Highlights of the Act, spearheaded by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, include:
Opponents of the Act criticized the differences between the bills lumped together, while others said the spirit of the bill was fundamentally unfair.
“I will not stand here and vote for a bill that promotes one gender over another,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville.
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said plenty of women past and present have made it on their own without government assistance.
"What are we telling women? Unless the government steps up you're not smart enough, you’re not tough enough; you’re not capable enough to be successful on your own?"
A House version of the Act passed 106-24. It heads next to conference committee.
A measure requiring cops to get a warrant before using devices to track cell phones overwhelmingly passed the Minnesota Senate 56-1 Tuesday.
Sen. Branden Petersen’s bill was authored in response to concern about “cellular exploitation devices” marketed under names like the Kingfish and Stingray, which mimic local phone towers to capture data and location information of cellular phones in a given area. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has one; so does the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
The original bill by Petersen, R-Andover, required a search warrant to use the devices, and requires that people tracked by the devices be notified afterward by law enforcement. The devices are currently used with authorization by court order, which is less stringent than a search warrant.
However, a floor amendment during modified the bill to require “tracking warrants” rather than search warrants. While both require a statement of probable cause and signoff by a judge, a tracking warrant is less specific in its requirements than a search warrant, and in many cases is exempt from case law pertaining to search warrants. A tracking warrant also allows law enforcement to cross jurisdictions and can be authorized for a longer period of time.
Petersen said the provision was a last-minute compromise with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and is what resulted in the near-unanimous vote. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, was the lone dissenter.
“In the interest of moving the bill, we ceded that part to law enforcement,” Petersen said, adding that the bill still makes great strides in protecting citizens’ rights.
=“We’re increasing the privacy threshold, increasing the standard and for the first time requiring that every person be notified after 60 days that they have in fact been searched,” Petersen said. “This has a degree of transparency and accountability to it.”
The bill’s House Companion awaits floor debate.
Gov. Mark Dayton is blasting legislative Republicans for refusing to pay for additional construction projects that could bring new economic development to the state.
“They are just dead wrong,” Dayton said Tuesday. “The Republicans have been wrong on this since I arrived. They are short-changing projects all around the state that are job-creating projects.”
Democratic and Republican legislative leaders cut a deal last year to limit new construction spending to about $850 million this session. They made the agreement before a strong economic turnout left the state with a surplus of more than $1.2 billion.
Dayton says the strengthening economy and strong budget outlook give the state more cushion to increase statewide borrowing to pay for roughly $400 million in additional projects.
Since state borrowing requires a two-thirds vote, the measure gives Republicans a rare moment of leverage as Democrats control both the House and the Senate.
Republicans say that the state should not run up taxpayer debt, and leaders have publicly not budged from the $850 million target. They say that the agreed upon number fits with historical averages and see no reason to break from it now.
The statewide construction measure stands as one of the last major initiatives to get completed in the final weeks of the legislative session.
Dayton said a recent Star Tribune story about an unfinished water project in southwestern Minnesota “is a prime example of where the lack of a public investment has crippled that area for economic growth.”
The governor said he is willing to fully fund the water project if it would persuade some GOP legislators to support a higher borrowing measure.
“I don’t think they have a toenail to stand on to justify this rigid ideology,” Dayton said. Holding to that number “would deny a whole range of projects around the state because of their fiscal ideology.”
A city councilman from St. Michael is running in the August primary for a Wright County-area House seat against a fellow Republican who snatched the party's endorsement from a sitting lawmaker.
Kevin Kasel launched his campaign Tuesday. He will run in the Republican primary for the House District 30B seat against Eric Lucero, a city councilman in nearby Dayton who in February won the GOP endorsement for the seat over state Rep. David FitzSimmons.
Lucero was critical of FitzSimmons' vote last year to legalize gay marriage. FitzSimmons was one of only four House Republicans to back the bill. FitzSimmons briefly considered a primary challenge but opted against it. The primary is on August 12.
Kasel says he supported FitzSimmons for the endorsement and only decided to run in the primary once the incumbent decided not to. He described himself as a solid conservative, but suggested he'd be more effective at getting things done at the Capitol than Lucero.
Lucero did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
In addition to serving on the St. Michael City Council since 2007, Kasel has worked for Best Buy and other companies as a process management consultant. Lucero, besides his service on the Dayton City Council, is an IT manager at an information security firm.
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