Rochester Lawmakers Discuss Marijuana Legalization
The DFL-controlled House and Senate must agree on a two-year state budget with Gov. Tim Walz. Lawmakers also left several issues on the bottom line of the 2022 session including funding for public safety, education, tax breaks and a bonding bill for state public works projects.
Another issue expected to come up during the 2023 legislative session is legalizing recreational marijuana. A bill legalizing recreational cannabis use passed the DFL-controlled House in 2021 but did not get a hearing in the then GOP-held Senate.
Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling voted for the recreational marijuana legalization bill in 2021. She compared recreational marijuana use prohibition to alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 20th century,
“It’s really time to change that and bring it into the light of day,” Liebling said in an interview with KROC-AM News.
Rochester Republican Senator Karla Nelson told KROC-AM News that she’s skeptical of recreational marijuana legalization. She raised concerns of state law contradicting federal law and the possibility of cannabis getting into the hands of minors.
“Obviously those would be a regulated adult product but we know that those always get into the hands of minors as well and there seems to be a lot of medical evidence regarding cannabis use in young teens,” Nelson said.
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson shared concerns of recreational marijuana legalization’s impact on public safety. He said during an interview on Townsquare Media Rochester’s Y-105 FM, “(Colorado) legalized it in 2013. And since 2013 there, traffic deaths where drivers tested positive has gone up 138%,” Torgerson said. “And I look at everybody and I say, are we ready for that?”
Liebling says the public safety issues surrounding marijuana use are happening despite recreational marijuana use being outlawed.
“We haven’t stopped those things from happening by having it being prohibited,” Liebling said. “It’s not like we’re going to solve all problems by legalizing and we certainly have not solved all problems by having it be prohibited and criminalized.”
Both Liebling and Nelson want to see the potential bill include mechanisms to keep cannabis away from children. Nelson is hoping for a comprehensive process in crafting the potential bill.
“I would hope for a thorough vetting, honest discussion, looking at the data and listening to those in the field particularly of public safety as we go forward,” Nelson said.
“It will have complete committee hearings, lots of opportunity for the public to weigh in on the different pieces of it,” said Liebling. “Everything from the taxes on the product to who can sell them and where and how much cannabis can be in the various products and all of those kinds of things,”
Since the 2023 session is dedicated to crafting a budget, all bills not signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz last session will have to be reintroduced. Liebling says the legislature can address multiple items at the same time, including recreational marijuana legalization.
“I think it’s a pretty safe bet that we will be passing something that will further remove the prohibition of personal use of cannabis,” Liebling said.
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