Capitol Watch: Liberals have second thoughts on SRO fix
In last week’s legislative preview, we commented that the proposed fix to the SRO issue was on the right track, “but it remains to be seen if the defund-the-police crowd…
The DFL-led Minnesota Legislature has made clear in the early weeks of 2023 that we are in for an avalanche of “progressive” bills that will do little to address one of the most important issues facing our state — public safety. The DFL, including Governor Walz, has made the legalization of marijuana its signature public safety priority. At a time of unparalleled concern over Minnesota’s public safety, the prioritization of this effort over more pressing public safety matters, such as repeat offenders and violent crime, should be a disappointment to all.
The DFL has been successful in presenting the issue as the “simple legalization of recreational marijuana.” They have suggested that legalization will eliminate the black market through the creation of a well-regulated state sanctioned market, create a boom in the economy and the state’s revenue, and empty our prisons of masses of people supposedly imprisoned for “low level, non-violent drug crimes.”
If you have bought into these narratives, you would be wise to do more research. This article offers a good start by examining many of the issues surrounding the debate over marijuana legalization.
Breadth of Legislation
The bills each span 302 pages and appropriate approximately $82 million dollars in 2024-25 to facilitate the legalization of marijuana, to address the anticipated increase in substance abuse, to automatically expunge prior convictions for many marijuana offenses, and to promote the marijuana industry.
Is this the “simple legalization” and less intrusive government that you had been led to believe would emerge? Did you know the state was proposing to actively promote the marijuana industry through tens of millions of dollars in grants and other support? Had you heard legislators acknowledge the expected increase in use and abuse of marijuana, and the collateral damage it brings with it?
This legislation would create several new bureaucracies in state government including the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), with a Division of Social Equity (DSE), the Cannabis Advisory Council (CAC), the Cannabis Expungement Board (CEB), and several additional mandates for existing administrative agencies to carry out the mission.
Is this the level of bureaucracy you expected when you heard about “simply legalizing recreational use marijuana?”
This legislation appropriates the spending of approximately $82 million to “simply legalize marijuana.” Here is a list of some curious and significantly expensive appropriations.
Are these issues you anticipated when contemplating the legalization of marijuana? Is this what you had been led to believe legalization would cost?
Neither bill has an attached fiscal note, or a completed revenue analysis available with the files. News reports over recent years have suggested various estimates of revenue between $100 and $300 million annually. A 2021 Minnesota Department of Revenue, Revenue Analysis of the issue estimated state revenue at $66 million in 2024, and $98.9 million in 2025.
States that have legalized marijuana under the impression that the legal market would create an economic boom for the state, have been disappointed. These states have come to realize that legalizing marijuana has actually stimulated the underground black market — a situation that revenue from legal sales has struggled to overcome. Given the haphazard role out of edible marijuana in 2022, the less than successful medical marijuana market since 2015, and the appropriations proposed to facilitate legalization, there is no reason to believe Minnesota’s state sanctioned dispensaries would be a boom to the state economy.
Elimination of the Black Market?
As written, this legislation will undoubtedly serve to enhance the underground black market for marijuana in Minnesota. The feeble prohibitions against private sale of marijuana will fail to curtail such activity — in fact they will enhance it.
The legislation essentially decriminalizes private sales of marijuana by eliminating current felony-level penalties (unless the sale is to a minor, or in a school zone). As written, an adult will literally be free to sell hundreds of pounds of marijuana, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to other adults and face a misdemeanor penalty. Furthermore, as written, the legislation reduces the penalty for a juvenile who sells any amount of marijuana to that of a traffic ticket.
A street level marijuana sale often involves an ounce or two of product. These sales are presently controlled by attaching a felony penalty. The legislation slashes the penalty for such street level sales to a petty misdemeanor. Laughably, if a “sale” occurs at “no cost” — there is no penalty attached.
Private growers and dealers will always be able to supply product cheaper, and with more potency than the state.
Dealers will continue to profit, and that profit will outweigh any penalty the legislation purports to impose.
Buyers will naturally purchase marijuana in a manner that offers the path of least resistance. This will manifest as black-market street level sales of higher potency marijuana, marijuana that doesn’t come with an 8% tax, and marijuana that can be purchased with ease, 24 hours per day on a street corner, at a neighborhood house, or in a convenience store back room — all without any realistic threat of penalty.
Does this match the narrative of a black market that simply disappears as use increases?
Lessons from States Which Have Legalized Marijuana
The experiences of states which have legalized marijuana should clearly inform us that legalization will:
The concept of legalizing a controlled substance is deeply flawed as demonstrated by the states which have “led” the way in this area.
Read more about the issues Colorado has faced in the 10 years since it legalized marijuana — here.
The legislation limits local governments from prohibiting the possession, transportation, or use of marijuana. The only way local government can regulate sales by state sanctioned dispensaries is through business zoning.
Given the previously discussed feeble penalties associated with private sales, police will largely walk away from the enforcement of marijuana related issues. Sadly, the very neighborhoods and communities this legislation purports to be looking out for will suffer the most, with increases in street level sales, and the increases in crime and violence that go with it.
Is there anyone interested in living next to a house where marijuana is sold out the back door day and night, or staying in a hotel where the entire floor reeks of marijuana? How about living, working, or doing business next to a state-sanctioned dispensary?
The legislation allows their operation until 2 a.m., and allows them to operate 1,000 feet from schools, daycares, churches, etc.
Was this what you understood “recreational use” legalization to look and feel like in your town?
Low Level Drug Offenses Filling Our Prisons?
You have undoubtedly heard the narrative that our prisons are full of non-violent low level marijuana offenders? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our sentencing guidelines call for six prior felony drug convictions for user-level possession before a prison sentence is “presumptive.”
In 2022, the Minnesota Department of Corrections reported housing 7,800 inmates statewide. Of that total, just 15% were incarcerated for a drug offense, and just 3% for a marijuana offense. That represents a total of 36 inmates in our entire state prison system for a marijuana offense. These 36 inmates represent just .07% of all drug violations reported by the BCA annually.
We don’t have an over-incarceration problem involving “low level drug offenders,” especially marijuana offenders. The state knows this and accordingly, the state has identified saving only $522,000 over two years in Department of Correction costs through the legalization of marijuana.
We do have a crime problem associated with drug use, however. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 85% of prison inmates either have a substance abuse disorder or were using drugs at the time of their offense.
Don’t confuse a conviction for a drug crime with a crime fueled by a drug addiction.
Mission of the Office of Cannabis Management
Verbatim from the legislation:
“The office must;
The office must not;
While these mandates are admirable, the state cannot seriously expect to achieve them. Read each one and ask yourself if promoting the use of, and marketing the sale of marijuana is likely to help achieve any of these mandates?
These mandates align poorly with supporting controlled substance use, or the state promotion of an industry designed to produce and market a controlled substance to the public.
Efforts to achieve these mandates are destined to fail miserably — unfortunately at our collective expense.
Marijuana Use in Minnesota
A 2019 MinnPost poll suggested just 7.9% Minnesotans used marijuana. Nationally the average is closer to 10% and given the track record of use increasing in states which have legalized marijuana, 10% is a solid figure for Minnesota in 2023.
Is 10% a population percentage that should be driving significant policy changes as proposed?
Support for Legalization
A variety of poling has occurred in Minnesota over the last several years. These polls have shown a slight majority of Minnesotans are supportive of adult use legalization of marijuana — in the low to high 50s for percentage. The support is not overwhelming as legalization advocates suggest, and the polling results often combine categories such as “somewhat supportive” with “completely supportive.”
Other problematic polling aspects include downplaying the issue through phrasing — one poll determined support for legalization by asking if people favor decriminalizing “trivial amounts” of marijuana. There appears to be general support for legalization, but that support has been gleaned from less than clear poling yet remains just above 50%.
Did you clearly understand the issues around the legalization of marijuana when forming your opinion?
A great deal of effort and millions of dollars in lobbying has gone into creating the narrative that the legalization of marijuana in Minnesota will be a pleasant experience for everyone. The lessons learned by states who have legalized marijuana tell a different story.
The issue is significant and deserves deliberation and full disclosure of the costs and anticipated impacts to Minnesota. This legislation represents far more than the simple legalization of “recreation use marijuana.”
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