“Public support is growing for legalizing and expunging criminal records for cannabis,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said regarding the new, proposed legislation. He plans to sponsor another bill for legalization this time around. “We want to create a safe, regulated marketplace where people can buy cannabis, know what they’re getting, where law enforcement knows where cannabis is coming into the community.”
“There are obviously big racial biases in the criminal justice system, very different arrest rates, very different incarceration depending on your race,” he added, regarding some of the other reasons for legalization in Minnesota. “The big hurdle is not really trying to convince people that cannabis is good. Nobody is trying to say that. What we’re saying is, the current system fails every test of a good, public response to a drug that has some adverse effects and has some positive benefits.”
However, as many bright sides as he sees, Winkler is tuned in to the fact that some people are still not convinced this is the right move to make. Many are concerned about perceived dangers to the community, such as driving while high.
“There’s always a balance of harms, and I think impaired driving is a relatively smaller harm compared to the harms we’re creating through prohibition,” Winkler said.
However, despite this, he still thinks it has a good chance of passing.
“I really see Senate leadership as being the number-one obstacle. I think if they would agree to put this on the ballot in 2022, I think it would pass overwhelmingly,” Winkler said.
A Rocky Path To Legalization
And it is certainly an obstacle. Many, including people in the senate, feel that there is still not a good chance of recreational cannabis passing.
“With a divided government returning to the capitol in 2021, I don’t think recreational marijuana will have a different outcome than last legislative session,” said a Senate spokesperson.
Still others just want to learn as much as possible to determine where they stand.
“We are an early adopter. We want to be on board to learn all that we can, this is obviously a hot topic, legalization,” Chris Tholkes of the Minnesota Department of Health said.
Tholkes is interested because the state’s Department of Health helped found the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANN-RA). Therefore, they would be the ones responsible for implementing the program, should it become legal. They already oversee medical cannabis.
“It’s just looking at learning from other states that have been doing this longer, what have they put into practice in their state, and what can we learn from that,” Tholkes said.
Winkler has worked with state agencies on the bill, and Minnesota is studying the models of other other legal states to decide how to move forward. For all these reasons, he is confident the time is right.
“We can do it right, and it’s time for us to get moving,” Winkler said.