Minnesota cannabis advocates are deploying a new strategy in their fight for legal recreational marijuana: pouring money into election races in hopes of achieving a "pro-legalization" majority in the state Legislature.

The state's leading cannabis advocacy groups — Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, Sensible Change Minnesota and Minnesota NORML — recently joined forces to create the MN is Ready Coalition, which will conduct voter outreach ahead of the November midterm elections and support candidates through a separate political action fund.

"I think there's going to be substantial money in this, especially from some [donors] who really understand this as being an issue that has cost Democrats seats," said Leili Fatehi, a longtime legalization advocate who will run the MN is Ready Political Action Fund.

In 2020, candidates running under the Legal Marijuana Now and Grassroots Legalize Cannabis parties pulled in thousands of votes in some key races. State Democrats believed the third-party candidates cost them votes and helped Republicans maintain control of the Minnesota Senate.

The Republican-controlled Senate has continued to oppose recreational marijuana legalization, while the Democratic-led House supports it and passed a legalization bill last year.

The political action fund will focus its money on battleground races where third-party candidates could again cost a Democrat victory, Fatehi said. She anticipates the fund will target three state Senate races, two House races and the First and Second Congressional District elections.

Maren Schroeder, director of the MN is Ready Coalition, said the group is also doing voter outreach and registration. Specifically, the coalition is trying to reach Minnesotans who use marijuana and persuade them to vote for candidates who support legalization.

The coalition held a kickoff party at Iron Door Pub in Minneapolis Wednesday night, drawing several dozen people including Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who shepherded the legalization bill through the House. Guests received gift bags containing coalition stickers, cigarette holders and samples of bottled THC-infused edibles.

MN is Ready has created an online voter guide showing which candidates for state and federal offices support recreational marijuana legalization and who doesn't. The group is advertising its online voter guide on flyers and via social media. It's posted videos on its TikTok account showing Minnesota lawmakers' past statements on marijuana legalization, with some clips garnering more than 10,000 views.

Some of the coalition's partners, including retail hemp shops, are helping get the word out, too.

Josh Wilken-Simon, owner of Legacy Glassworks, said his glass pipe stores in Minneapolis and Duluth will likely hand out coalition pamphlets to customers, stressing the importance of their votes.

At Crested River Cannabis Co. in Morgan, Minn., customers who buy CBD or THC products are handed a postcard with information about the coalition and its voter guide, said owner Shawn Weber. He said he also sends the postcards digitally to customers who order from his online shop.

"We're pushing as much traffic to their website as we can because we want to educate people," Weber said.

Fatehi believes the coalition's voter outreach and political funding efforts could help pressure Senate Republicans to embrace legalization.

"I think that they're going to have to," Fatehi said, noting that hemp-derived THC edibles are now legal here, and some of Minnesota's border states could legalize recreational marijuana via ballot initiatives this November.