Advocates for legal recreational marijuana in Minnesota say they are readying a set of principles in the next couple of weeks to guide their push in the session of the Legislature that convenes in February.
“This process that we’re going through — these town halls and developing principles and policy recommendations — at the end of all of this we would expect to be a bill, ready for introduction at the beginning of session, that would be the state-of-the-art in the country,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said Tuesday.
Winkler, the House majority leader, has been touring the state hearing Minnesotans’ thoughts on legalization. He also has been meeting with members of Gov. Tim Walz’s administration and House and Senate members, including skeptics and advocates.
Although legislation to legalize recreational marijuana faces steep odds in the Republican-controlled Senate, Walz has instructed state agencies to be prepared to implement a new law if a bill should reach his desk next year. Among the questions facing state officials are the tax, regulatory, law enforcement and economic impact of legal cannabis.
Winkler, who expects to be the chief sponsor of a legalization bill, is working with several officials from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana five years ago. Former Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash and former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, both Democrats, are participating in Minnesota town hall meetings on cannabis with Democratic legislators this week. They are also talking with police, sheriffs and county attorneys about lessons Colorado has learned.
Both men said Tuesday that they initially opposed legalization but have changed their minds.
“From a practical perspective and from a public safety perspective, I’ve come to conclude that legalization and appropriate regulation of marijuana is better than criminalization,” Garnett said.
If legislators here legalize recreational use, it could take up to a year to set up the regulatory structure, Friednash said. But he said that timeline could be much shorter if state departments and agencies are on board early and Minnesota has a licensing mechanism set up.
To date, 11 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized cannabis for adult use.
Minnesota Democrats pushed last session to create a task force to study the idea of following other states’ lead and allowing recreational use of the drug. The Republican-controlled Senate chose not to move forward with the task force, though Winkler has done so on his own with a process he said has essentially replaced what the task force would have done.
Political clashes over the issue are likely to continue in the 2020 session, as many Democrats call for legalization while key Republican leaders remain firmly opposed.