A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota might have died in the legislature this session, but a newly released poll conducted by lawmakers shows voters are increasingly ready for the reform.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents for the 2021 House of Representatives State Fair Poll said they favor legalizing cannabis for adult use. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.
— MNHouseInfo (@MNHouseInfo) September 8, 2021
While the poll is non-scientific in that it didn’t use random sampling, it did have a very large sample size of about 5,200 State Fair attendees. And of the 12 questions on various policy proposals, marijuana legalization proved to be more popular than almost every other issue, with more people backing the reform than supporting proposals such as legalizing sports gambling, allowing to-go alcoholic beverages, imposing a mask mandate at schools, instituting automatic voter registration and banning flavored tobacco products.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state this year, but it later died in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The Senate did not conduct its own State Fair survey this year, but the chamber similarly found that a majority of constituents (55 percent) backed legalization when it asked in 2019.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsor of the legalization legislation, said in June that he felt marijuana reform could be taken up during a special session. But that did not come to fruition before it ended in July.
While advocates were hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis policy changes could be accomplished in the special session, they also recognized that Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) could be an obstacle, as he’s consistently been opposed to broad reform.
But for the coming regular session, one interesting development is that Gazelka recently announced that he’s resigning as leader while he considers a run for governor, and so activists will be closely following to see if a more reform friendly GOP replacement is selected for the position.
Winkler’s House-passed legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. The lawmaker, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that prior session, however.
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who signed legislation in May that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products, previously called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.