Pubdate: Thu, 07 Sep 2017
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2017 Star Tribune
Author: J. Patrick Coolican


A sleeper issue has emerged among DFL candidates in the 2018
governor's race: Marijuana.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Reps. Erin Murphy, Tina Liebling
and Paul Thissen, and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz all support legalizing
marijuana for recreational and not just medical use. Among the major
DFL candidates, only State Auditor Rebecca Otto declined to do so.

"When you confront the reality of the cost of criminalization vs. the
benefits of legalization, I think the benefits outweigh the costs,"
said Coleman, whose campaign approached the Star Tribune to discuss
the issue.

The candidates' sudden embrace of marijuana legalization underscores
how quickly the issue is moving and illustrates the rapid changes
underway in the DFL Party.

In a 2014 Star Tribune Minnesota Poll, just 30 percent of respondents
said the state should legalize marijuana for recreational purposes,
while 63 percent opposed.

Since then, however, legalization has spread from Colorado and
Washington State, which were early adopters, to California,
Massachusetts and three other states plus the District of Columbia. A
wave of largely positive publicity has followed, with tales of tax
revenue for schools, tourism dollars and a decline in
marijuana-related arrests and the costs of prosecuting them.

In a 2016 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans said they favor
legalization, the highest support in the poll's half century of asking
about the issue.

The Minnesota DFL is increasingly younger, more diverse and more urban
- - groups that favor legalization by big margins. The DFL candidates
for governor are trying to capture those demographics as they chase
the delegates needed to win the endorsement and the party's nomination
next year.

The four major Republican candidates for governor are all opposed to
marijuana legalization.

"My focus will be on fixing those things that are making life
difficult for Minnesota's middle class. Not legalizing pot," said
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who was the GOP's 2014
nominee and is running again.

Like Coleman, other DFL candidates cited prohibition's disproportionate 
effects on people of color.

"The system we have had was that we looked the other way, unless
you're a person of color, in which case you face the threat of arrest
and incarceration," said Walz, who has also been active trying to get
medicinal marijuana to military veterans as part of his work in Washington.

Blacks in Minnesota were 6.4 times more likely than whites to be
arrested for marijuana possession in recent years, according to a
report by University of Minnesota geographer Nicole Simms.

But opposition among Republicans and even among some DFLers
demonstrates that growing public support for marijuana legalizationmay
not translate into swift action at the State Capitol.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, whose term ends in 2018 and is not running for
re-election, is opposed to marijuana legalization. Republicans will
continue to control the state Senate at least through the 2020
election, and Minnesota lacks the kind of voter initiative process
that accommodated marijuana legalization in the first wave of states.

Another Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. David Osmek of
Mound, said he opposes legalization because he has "close friends who
have had kids get caught up in pot, who proceeded to go from pot to
stronger drugs, and they're both incarcerated."

"I see it as a problem for us as a society and we shouldn't go that
direction," Osmek said.

Coleman rejected Osmek's argument: "Alcohol is the biggest gateway
drug out there."

Both Osmek and Keith Downey, the former GOP party chair now running
for governor, said they favor medical cannabis.

Minnesota legalized medical cannabis in 2014 when Thissen - who
recently wrote a lengthy defense of legalizing marijuana on the
website Medium - was state House speaker.

The 2014 law created a tight regulatory regime that sought to prevent
an unwitting, chaotic slide from medical into recreational
quasi-legalization. But the law has been called overly restrictive by
patients and some doctors.

Otto was asked about legalization at a forum this summer and declined
to support it: "I want to fund the schools in an honest way in our
state. I feel like we have to say these are our values, and I don't to
have to sell marijuana to fund our schools," she said.

Coleman said Minnesota should prepare for the inevitable and be ready
to capture the benefits of legalization like tax revenue and new jobs,
while mitigating the costs, including addiction and traffic safety.

"To me it's not a question of if, it's a question of when, and I think
the time is now," Coleman said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt