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As nearby states legalize recreational pot, Minnesota faces opposition

In Minnesota, recreational marijuana faces opposition, even as border state South Dakota moves forward starting July 1.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Recreational marijuana is a topic of discussion again at the Minnesota State Capitol.

DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler introduced another bill on Monday to legalize the drug for adults 21 and older, with legislation that includes provisions for youth prevention and expungement of prior records.

“For Ryan Winkler to introduce the bill again, it’s a huge step,” said Michael Ford, the executive director of the group Minnesota NORML, which strongly supports the legalization of recreational marijuana.

The lobbying organization wants marijuana reform for the same reasons as many other proponents: for economic and tax revenue purposes, as an alternative to opioids, and because of racial disparities in arrests. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, “Black people are 5.4 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Minnesota, despite comparable usage rates.”

“I want to see that end,” Michael Ford said. “I want to see opportunities for arise for people to get involved in the business, I’d like to see people get records expunged. Families are being torn apart.”

But Ford admits the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate, where leaders remain opposed. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in a statement that he is “open to looking at additional medicinal uses and a conversation around drug sentencing,” but that his “main concerns are the unintended consequences of recreational pot similar to the concerns we all have about tobacco, drinking, or prescription drug abuse.”

RELATED: Lawmakers renew push for recreational pot

Some major medical groups also continue to oppose efforts to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use, including the American Academy of Pediatrics “because of the potential harms to children and adolescents.” However, AAP wants the drug decriminalized and “supports studying the effects” of recent laws in states where it’s legal.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational pot, including Illinois and, of course, South Dakota, where voters passed a ballot measure in November that takes effect July 1. Arizona is another state where voters approved a marijuana measure in November; residents there are now allowed to buy up to an ounce of pot, as of ten days ago.

“It’s a nationwide movement that’s kind of building this momentum up. I’m just hoping we’re able to jump on the wave and keep pushing for legalization in Minnesota,” Ford said.

But unlike states like Arizona or South Dakota, Minnesota only allows constitutional amendments to go to the ballot for a public vote, meaning any path to legalization would need to garner Republican support in the legislature. 

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