Could marijuana legalization catch on in Minnesota? - KMSP-TV

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Could marijuana legalization catch on in Minnesota?

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The 2012 election brought a big victory for marijuana advocates. Massachusetts passed a law allowing medical use for cancer patients, but Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use.

"It's really an historical point for marijuana reform," said Randy Quast, executive director of Minnesota NORML.

So, could Minnesota be next? Quast's group is lobbying to legalize Marijuana in the state, but they know there will be some road blocks.

"The first people who ought to get marijuana are those with a medical need, but NORML believes the best way to accomplish that is to legalize it outright," Quast said.

In 2009, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill to allow medical marijuana use, but then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the measure. Even so, Quast told FOX 9 News he can see a day when attitudes about marijuana use will change, similar to alcohol and the repeal of prohibition.

"We view that as similar to how marijuana prohibition will end," he said. "States will start to take a more sensible approach to it -- and eventually, the federal government will have to recognize that."

However, there is still a question whether states can legalize a drug classified as a "class one narcotic" by the federal government. Colorado's governor says they'll soon find out once he speaks with Attorney General Eric Holder about the conflict between the state's amendment and federal law.

"Voters were clear. It's decriminalized, and we will not be prosecuting people on a state-law basis," said Gov. John Hickenlooper. "The issue is the federal law."

Still, those who treat drug and alcohol addictions say relaxing attitudes over casual marijuana use could lead to dire consequences.

"What we are very much afraid of is a teen or adult using a legal substance that then opens the door for a much more deadly substance and addiction," said Pati McConeghy, with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Colorado law will allow adults over the age of 21 to possess 28 grams of pot and privately grow up to six marijuana plants -- but that's something Minnesota prosecutor John Kingery said he strongly opposes.

"Marijuana is big business," he said. "There are individuals making a lot of money on it, and it is driving up other forms of crime to pay for that illegal drug."

But that's why supporters say marijuana should be decriminalized, arguing that too much money is spent on arresting, prosecuting and sending nonviolent offenders to prison.

"All it does is -- it brings it underground, to the black market. Everybody knows cannabis is just as easy to get and just as potent as ever, so the war on drugs -- the prohibition -- it doesn't work," said Quast. "All it's doing is causing crime, and we've seen that with alcohol in the days of Al Capone."

At this point, it remains unclear whether Minnesota lawmakers will take up the issue in the upcoming session. Democratic leaders say the first priority for their caucus will be to balance the budget.

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