ST. PAUL — State lawmakers aiming to legalize marijuana in Minnesota are bringing new allies into talks about passing a plan in 2020: skeptics-turned-supporters of Colorado's legalization efforts.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, on Tuesday, Nov. 19, brought a former Colorado district attorney and former Denver city attorney to speak with lawmakers, law enforcement officials and reporters about their experience implementing recreational marijuana laws.
The move comes as Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz again prepare to bring legislation aimed at making the drug available for recreational use in Minnesota. Efforts to legalize, decriminalize and form a task force to study marijuana failed earlier this year in the Legislature.
And with the divided government again slated for the 2020 legislative session, Democrats will come up against the same wall of opposition in the Minnesota Senate.
Republicans control that chamber and have committed to opposing efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on Tuesday tweeted that Republicans would instead focus on jobs, health care and education access in 2020.
Democrats want to focus on impeachment, a gas tax increase, and legalizing marijuana. Republicans in MN will focus on jobs, making health care affordable and accessible, and providing education options for everyone.
Democrats want to focus on impeachment, a gas tax increase, and legalizing marijuana. Republicans in MN will focus on jobs, making health care affordable and accessible, and providing education options for everyone.— Paul Gazelka (@paulgazelka) November 19, 2019
But that didn't deter three-term Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett and former Denver City Attorney Doug Friednash from stumping for legalization and sharing their advice for rolling out a framework free of some of Colorado's early mistakes. Both work for a Denver law firm that specializes in cannabis and industrial hemp.
"If you could wave a magic wand and say nobody’s ever going to use marijuana, that might be a great thing to do, but the reality is that marijuana is here," Garnett said. “What changed my mind is, as a prosecutor, you learn to be very practical — what works, what doesn’t work — what clearly didn’t work was criminally prosecuting possession, use and sale of marijuana."
Garnett and Friednash said they both opposed the proposal when it came up for a vote and passed as a constitutional amendment in 2014. They were set to join lawmakers at a public meeting on legalization Tuesday evening in Woodbury.
The pair advised Minnesota lawmakers to meet with agency heads early as the legislation like would affect every area of state government and could take more than a year to put in place. Walz over the summer said he'd asked department heads to get ready for the law's passage.
Garnett and Friednash also urged Minnesota lawmakers to mind flaws Colorado and other states experienced in rolling out their laws.
Among the problems they mentioned were not requiring child-resistant packaging for marijuana edibles, allowing too many plants to be grown per caregiver and not authorizing enough funding for law enforcement officials tackling black market operations.
"We made mistakes along the way, we've addressed those along the way and have a pretty good working system now in Colorado," Friednash said.
Winkler said House and Senate Democrats, as well as Walz administration officials, have been meeting to craft "state of the art" recreational marijuana legislation at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session. And they've been incorporating the feedback of supporters, opponents and skeptics they've met in a series of town hall discussions around the state.
He said the proposal would focus on public safety, public health, taxation and implementation as well as economic development.