An attorney for the Legal Marijuana Now Party asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to preserve its status as a major political party in Minnesota, describing new legal requirements to maintain that status as burdensome and raising questions about whether they violate the party's constitutional rights.

Legal Marijuana Now (LMN) is fighting to continue as a major political party in Minnesota in the 2024 election after the state DFL Party filed a petition with the court in February arguing LMN failed to comply with state law when filing its certification for major party status with the Secretary of State.

Under a DFL-led law change passed last spring, parties must submit a list of dates and locations of every convention held in 2022 in all congressional districts and in at least 45 county or legislative districts to maintain their major-party status.

The law also requires them to have a local chair and party officers as needed in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts and at least 45 county or legislative districts. The DFL's petition says LMN didn't meet either requirement, among others.

"There's an administrative burden in complying with whatever way the government wants to do it," said Erick Kaardal, an attorney for the Legal Marijuana Now Party, adding that it interferes with a party's internal business. "If they don't do it the government's way, they get decertified as a major political party."

The Minnesota Secretary of State's Office initially rejected LMN's major party status certification for failing to meet these requirements but then approved it after the party said it held 76 conventions on the same day.

A district court judge recently sided with the DFL, finding that the LMN did not establish committees or meet leadership requirements under the law. They also didn't conduct "any convention for Minnesota's eight congressional districts and at least 45 Minnesota state legislative districts or counties."

Judge Edward Wahl recommended Minnesota's Secretary of State should "take all appropriate actions necessary to reflect that the Legal Marijuana Now Party is not a major political party in Minnesota" before elections this summer and fall.

Some of the requirements have been in statute for years, but changes made last session required political parties to report those to the Secretary of State's office to maintain major party status in the state. The DFL argues that only their party and the Republican Party of Minnesota met those requirements.

"The burden is not severe," argued attorney David Zoll on behalf of the DFL Party. "They could have brought themselves into compliance, and bringing themselves into compliance with that structure would not affect their ability to select their leaders, to choose candidates, to set their platform, to advance their goals, to choose their membership or communicate with voters, all of the things that are protected by the First Amendment."

Supreme Court justices questioned all the parties on whether the requirements were burdensome.

"It does strike me that the statutory scheme is awfully detailed and awfully invasive, am I right or wrong about that?" asked Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson.

The DFL defended the law as needed to show that a party has broad support across the state and deserves major party status and all the benefits that come with it, including automatic ballot access, protections for the party's name and qualification for public campaign subsidies.

Previously, a party could achieve major party status by maintaining a party organization and having at least one statewide candidate on the general election ballot who received at least 5% of the vote. Democrats raised the threshold to 8% of the vote in elections starting this fall.

Kaardal said the previous requirements have passed constitutional muster, as would increasing that threshold to 8% of the vote, but the new requirements are "directly regulating internal party affairs."

"The implications of your decision are very important because the state Legislature is watching," Kaardal said. "Is this a path that we want to go down? Do we want more of these regulations regulating the internal affairs of major political parties, minor political parties? ... Because that's where we're going if we don't have a strong, bright line."

Democrats have been critical of LMN, alleging that Republicans recruited candidates to run under their party banner in past elections, siphoning enough votes from their candidates to hand Republicans victory in key races.

Attorney Jon Woodruff, an assistant attorney general representing the Secretary of State's office, said if the DFL's petition prevails, LMN could still have access to the ballot on the upcoming election as a minor party in the state.

He asked the court to rule before May 15 to give state local election administrators enough time to understand their requirements for the state's August primary and November general elections.