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Minnesota Marijuana Parties May Have Helped Republicans Win Key Races, Hurting Legalization’s Chances



Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

By Max Nesterak, Minnesota Reformer

Marijuana legalization candidates may have played a decisive role in key races in Minnesota, potentially propelling U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn to reelection and helping Republicans maintain control of the state Senate.

Although the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party may end up eking out victories once more absentee ballots are counted, party officials insist the state’s two marijuana parties acted as a drag on their effort to gain control of the Legislature in one of the most pivotal elections in recent memory.

Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

The issue performed well across the country in Tuesday’s election, with four more states passing referendums legalizing marijuana—New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota—bringing the total to 15.

The pot parties’ strong performance in Minnesota, however, had the opposite effect, helping ensure the defeat of the legalization movement in the state for at least another election cycle. Unlike other states, ballot initiatives in Minnesota must be approved by the Legislature. The GOP-controlled Senate has staunchly opposed such an effort.

The head of the Legal Marijuana Now Party Tim Davis knows this.

“Republicans are the biggest problem in Minnesota,” Davis said. “The Republicans are the only thing that has stopped it. And they will stop it again.”

The DFL needed to flip two state senate seats and they would have taken control and been able to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana.

A marijuana candidate seems to have affected at least one state senate race, with Gene Dornink edging out Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, by just over 1,500 votes. Legal Marijuana Now candidate Tyler Becvar won over 2,500 votes. Becvar posted a video for his putative opponent Dornink on his Facebook page in May, according to a screenshot obtained by the Reformer. His Facebook page was also filled with support for President Donald Trump and attacks on Democrats.

Aric Putnam, the DFL challenger to Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, looks to have won his race despite the marijuana candidate pulling down over 3,000 votes. Putnam is currently ahead by less than 300 votes, but that gap is likely to widen as more absentee ballots are counted.

Putnam says he supports legalizing marijuana. Activists with NORML, a marijuana legalization group, held an event in Putnam’s district to register voters and tell them not to vote for Legal Marijuana Candidate Jaden Partlow.

“They were just as disturbed as I was to see an issue they care about weaponized for partisan gain,” Putnam said.

Relph was unavailable for comment.

The Legal Marijuana Now candidate scored above 5% in the U.S. Senate race, which is one the thresholds for securing major party status for another two general elections, which would mean getting on the ballot without onerous signature gathering. Both pot parties will have major party status in 2022.

In the 1st Congressional District, cannabis candidate Bill Rood won 21,000 votes, well above the margin of victory for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn over Dan Feehan.

While Democrats decry them as spoilers, Davis, the Legal Marijana Now Party chair, balks at the suggestion that the marijuana parties shouldn’t run candidates even if it would help their cause. He said Democrats are “sore losers” and expressed his devotion to third party politics even if it backfires.

“Most of the people in America accept the duopoly. They accept the (expletive) they’re living in as the best pile of (expletive) they can get,” Davis said. “And when somebody tries to change it, they think somebody’s thrown a wrench into the sprocket of what’s working … the system’s not working.”

Where Davis saw a place to take a stand against the system, Republicans saw an opening.

As the Reformer reported in June, several marijuana party candidates across the state have ties to the GOP.

Robyn Smith admitted she was recruited by a Republican to run for state senate against Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, and DFL challenger Rita Albrecht. Smith won 6% of the vote, but that race turned out to be far less competitive than expected with Eichorn winning reelection by a healthy margin.

Weeks won nearly 6% of the vote—more than the margin between Craig and Republican opponent Tyler Kistner—despite his death a month and a half earlier, which embroiled the race in a flurry of lawsuits. Since both marijuana parties earned major party status in 2018, Weeks’ death triggered a special election, which was then overturned by a federal judge.

In a voicemail leaked to the Star Tribune, Weeks is heard telling a friend he was recruited by Republicans to siphon votes away from Craig in her tough reelection bid against Kistner. Craig won her seat in 2018 from Jason Lewis after losing to him in 2016.

“They want me to run as a third-party, liberal candidate, which I’m down. I can play the liberal, you know that,” Weeks said in the message.

That people would take advantage of the legalization movement’s popularity was a foreseeable yet unavoidable outcome of the marijuana parties’ electoral successes, driven by the popular desire to legalize marijuana.

“We always said, ‘What if we get to be a major party status—then this is something we have to worry about,” said Marty Super, outgoing chair of Legal Marijuana Now Party, in an interview with the Reformer earlier this year.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin said he doesn’t blame the marijuana parties for not having the power to screen out interlopers and instead blasted Republicans for what he called a highly unethical and potentially illegal strategy.

“If you can’t win fair and square on the merits of your own ideas and the strength of your own candidates then you don’t deserve the majority.” Martin said.

Davis, the current Legal Marijuana Now Party chair, says the DFL are responsible for their own losses.

“The Democrats do not have faith in their candidates enough to beat a Republican if we are involved. But that is their problem, not ours,” Davis said.

Martin said there’s more to the DFL’s disappointing night than just the marijuana parties, but he called Davis’ response a “bull(expletive) answer.”

This story was first published by The Minnesota Reformer.

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Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed



Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.

The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.

“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”

The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.

“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.

“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.

“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”

On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”

It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.

Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”

Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.

In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.

Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.

He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top New York Official Responds To Marijuana Advocates’ Criticism Of Governor’s Legalization Plan

Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.

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Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill



Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.

The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.

It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.

Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.

The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.

Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.

In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.

The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.

A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.

Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.

Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.

Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.

Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

New Psychedelics Reform Group Sets Sights On Congress As Movement Builds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks



The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.

During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”

Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”

Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below: 

“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”

Walz did not include a request to legalize through his budget, however, as governors in some other states have.

The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, 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.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”

“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”

“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”

Last month, 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.

Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.

New Mexico Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In State Of The State Address

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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