As a congressman, Tim Walz pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs to study medical cannabis for military veterans. And now, as the newly elected Governor of Minnesota, Walz wants to make it the next U.S. state to legalize marijuana. In fact, Walz’s tax-revenue-generating, economic-opportunity-creating, racial-disparity-reducing stance on legalization led Forbes to predict that Minnesota would indeed be the next legal-weed state. But Gov. Walz will need the help of state legislators to get there. So far, however, lawmakers aren’t making legalization one of their 2019 legislative priorities. But a newly formed coalition of legalization advocates, calling themselves Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Reform (MRMR), is working to change that.
Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Reform (MRMR) Wants to Accelerate the State’s Legalization Timeline
State lawmakers aren’t making cannabis legalization a priority in 2019. But Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Reform say the time for creating an adult-use industry is now. “We believe Minnesota is ready to enact sensible marijuana regulations,” said Sarah Walker, MRMR Steering Committee co-chair. And on Tuesday, MRMR announced the beginning of a statewide, multi-partisan coalition and campaign to support the legalization and regulation of marijuana for safe adult recreational use in Minnesota.
So just who are the Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation? Essentially, anyone and everyone with an interest in ending prohibition. MRMR leaders include Leili Fatehi and Laura Monn Ginsburg from the public affairs firm Apparatus and Jason Tarasek, the Political Director of Minnesota’s Marijuana Policy Project. Additionally, steering committee members include former state lawmakers (both Republican and Democrat), business owners, ACLU attorneys, justice reform advocates, civil society groups, indigenous community leaders, and even the mayor of Minneapolis: Jacob Frey.
MRMR’s Steering Committee hopes to garner broad public and legislative support for legalization while leveraging Gov. Walz’s public support for policy change. Ultimately, however, the group will have to win a majority of legislators over to their side. Minnesota does not have ballot referendums, so voters can’t legalize cannabis on their own.
Speaking with MRMR Co-Founder Leili Fatehi
High Times caught up with MRMR co-founder Leili Fatehi. Fatehi is a legal and public policy expert in Minnesota with ten years’ experience working at the nexus of technology, environment, and human health law.
High Times: MRMR is a broad coalition. What brought everyone together? How did you get organized?
Leili Fatehi: My organization worked for many years on public policy issues implicating different kinds of social impacts and usually in areas that involve the natural environment, transportation and energy. Since working in that space, another colleague from the Marijuana Policy Project [Jason Tarasek] came to us to organize something in Minnesota, to pull together a strong, high-level steering committee with broad and diverse pull from across the state.
What gives you the confidence that Minnesota is ready for legalization?
Minnesotans have indicated they’re ready to have this conversation. The state now has two recognized, single-issue parties where that issue is legalization. Gov. Walz supported it on the campaign trail. The mayor of Minneapolis is on our Steering Committee. St. Paul City Council just passed a resolution supporting legalization. This is no longer a fringe issue. Minnesotans across the state and across parties want to have the conversation.
What kinds of events will MRMR organize? What will the campaign do?
We want to have public info sessions and discussions across the state, in all different types of communities. And we want to make sure that communities most impacted by both prohibition and legalization will be at the table. We’re finding communities that never realized they needed to be at the table. Minnesota is an agriculture state. We have a lot of family farmers, small farmers, and there’s a strong interest in making sure that marijuana cultivation is done in a way that serves the interest of Minnesota farmers.
This is also a state with some of the starkest racial disparities in the country. That needs to be at the forefront, too.
What are the biggest obstacles to legalization in Minnesota?
In the legislature right now, both parties are saying “not right now” to marijuana legalization. There’s a little bit of inertia there, and I can see why. Lawmakers need answers to questions that will allow them to craft legislation we can guarantee serves the best interests of Minnesotans. They need to have that information, and MRMR fills this need by engaging with legislators about policy options. There are no ballot initiatives in Minnesota, so national groups don’t prioritize us. Overall, MRMR wants to bring a different level of accountability to the legislature.
What does MRMR hope to accomplish in six months, in a year?
Early months will be focused on disseminating information and dispelling misinformation. We’ve learned from other states that it’s really important to provide people with strong, research-backed information to dispel concerns they may have about the relative risks of marijuana—concerns not backed by the research. Moreover, we know we need to engage with these concerns upstream to set the stage for the harder work of drilling down to the specifics.
MRMR Says it Will Adopt “Fact-Based” Approach Early on
The same arguments that have swayed legislators in other states will be part of MRMR’s rhetorical arsenal. MRMR recognizes that enforcing prohibition has both failed to reduce cannabis use and created massive racial disparities across multiple sectors, from jobs to housing and criminal justice. It also knows that a regulated industry creates economic opportunities and helps generate needed tax revenue for investments in schools, public programs, and infrastructure.
Lawmakers likely understand these benefits also. But MRMR says lawmakers (and the public) are less informed about the risks (or lack thereof) of legal cannabis consumption. That’s why MRMR is focusing first on outreach and education with a “fact-based” approach. Fatehi said that correcting misinformation about marijuana’s risks is essential. And that means listening to the concerns people have and genuinely responding to them.
Education and outreach are only part of the campaign’s broader social justice and policy goals, however. MRMR also has its sights set on criminal record expungement, diversity, and equity in the legal industry and investing cannabis tax revenue in communities impacted by the war on weed.