HIBBING — Momentum has picked up for legalizing recreational adult-use marijuana in Minnesota.

Three months ago, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, announced the “Be Heard on Cannabis” listening tour aimed at gathering voter input on what he deems a priority for the upcoming 2020 legislative session. Gov. Tim Walz has been supportive of legislation to join the District of Columbia and 11 other states which have already passed the legal consumption and sale of recreational marijuana.

Earlier this month, the Denver-based Marijuana Policy Group told investors at the CannConMN Symposium in Minneapolis that recreational marijuana could bring in $1.12 billion in sales over five years while creating 20,000 jobs and about $300 million in taxation. According to a report from MinnPost, Winkler said at the conference that he expects his bill would pass the Democratic-led House next year but it would run into trouble getting passed by the Republican-controlled Senate as Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, has said his party remains opposed.

Now, Winkler is scheduled to join State Rep. Julie Sandstede, D-Hibbing, in hosting his ninth of 15 community conversations on marijuana at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Memorial Building Little Theater.

In a recent interview with the Hibbing Daily Tribune, Sandstede echoed Winkler in saying that the push for legalization is not meant to generate great revenue for education or road construction, especially in a state predicting to have 341,000 customers over age 21 compared to the 860,000 in Colorado. Though numbers reportedly rise once states legalized recreational marijuana, legislators here say they are backing the push to use money from taxation for an additional revenue stream for the state.

“The purpose of the tour is to gather the pulse of Minnesotans,” Sandstede said last week at the HDT office.

Sandstede, an educator for more than two decades and currently teaches music for students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade in Virginia, described herself as being “cautious on the topic” and the impact on recreational marijuana on the school systems.

“While I’m not concerned about students in K-2, I’m worried about their parents,” she said. “The Iron Range is steeped in mental health issues and does not have a lot of resources. Opening up recreational marijuana to the general population may be creating more demands from mental health workers, which we’re already short of here.”

When the HDT asked whether she would support pro-recreational marijuana legislation today, Sandstede said “there’s a lot of concerns for me, but I haven’t formulated my drop-dead decision on anything.”

Sandstede admits she is no medical expert and said she was thankful for Winkler to come to Hibbing, where the two of them have invited local politicians, officials and leaders to attend the meeting. She remains open to learning more about the pros and cons of possible legislation. “There’s a middle ground to be had,” she said.” This event can provide a path way for a much greater conversation to have among stakeholders.”

The federal government has long classified marijuana as a prohibited Schedule I drug with a “high potential for abuse” on the same level of heroin and ecstasy; however, they have more or less kept out of state-by-state decisions.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Alaska and Oregon followed suit in 2014; California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada in 2016; and Michigan and Vermont in 2018. Illinois became the latest state to join the market in January.

Meanwhile, Canada officially legalized marijuana throughout the entire country last year.

Medical marijuana

During the interview, Sandstede said she “is in favor of expanding the state’s medical marijuana program and decriminalization efforts if they are proving to be costly and burdensome.”

It was in 1976 when Minnesota decriminalized the possession or sale of less than 42.5 grams of marijuana. That move resulted in first offenses becoming petty misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $200 fine. The possession or sale of larger quantities of marijuana remains a felony.

In 2014, nearly a decade after California became the first state in the nation to approve the medical use of marijuana, former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the legislative approval of its own medical marijuana program into a law that included a set of nine qualifying conditions, including cancer and glaucoma. Since then, the Minnesota Office of Medical Cannabis expanded the program by adding several qualifying conditions, such as intractable pain, PTSD and obstructive sleep apnea and autism. In August, the state welcomed Alzheimer’s disease as the latest qualifying condition.

As of this year, a total of 33 states and the District of Columbia have approved a medical marijuana program.

Minnesota has one of the most rigid programs in the nation. The state allows legal residents who have been diagnosed with one or more of the qualifying conditions to ingest cannabis extracts as capsules, oil, tinctures, topical ointments and vapor but prohibits edible cannabis food products and smokable forms of marijuana.

The MDH has two registered medical marijuana manufacturers responsible for the cultivation, production and distribution in the state. Minnesota Medical Solutions and Leafline Labs operate at least 12 licensed dispensaries serving the state’s 87 counties. Leafline Labs now operates a Cannabis Patient Center in Hibbing.

As of this week, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 30,187 patients with approved enrollment, with 18,127 of them currently active in the state registry. The MDH data also shows 1,646 health care practitioners registered and authorized to certify patients and 1,451 patient caregivers who are approved in the registry.

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