Minnesota House majority leader looks to Colorado for marijuana legalization lessons

Across the country, eleven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. There are many lawmakers who want Minnesota to be next and many who do not, including Senate Republicans. The House majority leader is laying the groundwork to convince voters and lawmakers that it could work here.

When Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, nearly all of its lawmakers and prosecutors opposed it. Two of them have since changed their mind.

“I was of those who said the sky was going to fall,” said Doug Friednash, a former Denver city attorney. “It didn’t fall.”

Stan Garnett is the former Boulder County district attorney who came to believe that drug laws needed to change.

“Criminalization does not work,” said Garnett. “It doesn’t keep marijuana out of the community, it is here regardless. And it has a lot of ancillary impacts that are very unfair, so it promotes and requires a black market.”
Garnett says decriminalization alone doesn’t eliminate the black market or make many of impacts go away.

“People are well aware of the negative of marijuana, on adolescents, on children, on pregnant women and that sort of thing,” he said. “Those sorts of issues have to be controlled. Criminalization doesn’t do it. Regulation does a better job.”  

Both Garnett and Friednash are in Minnesota at the invitation of House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who is holding two town hall meetings, in Eden Prairie and Woodbury, this week on the legalization on recreational marijuana. 

“And there were two problems with that,” said Friednash. “One as Doug indicated, the packaging, much of it, was very attractive to children - even mimicked candies and other things. We had to get a handle on that. And the other thing was there was not a lot of experience about the potency of the marijuana that included in the edibles.  And we needed to figure out to measure that and how to label that.”  
They are lessons, Representative Winkler hopes to apply to potential legislation in Minnesota.

“This is not an attempt to take the law away from marijuana,” said Winkler. “It is shift change to a regulation from a public health standpoint and make sure that our criminal laws are being enforced that make sense for protecting us from illegal activity.”  

Representative Winkler intends to introduce a recreational marijuana bill next session.