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State senators in lakes area not supportive of recreational marijuana bill

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Sen. Paul Utke, GOP-Park Rapids, both oppose the recreational, adult-use marijuana measure and said the bill isn't expected to be brought up for a vote in their chamber due to strong opposition by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, GOP-Baxter.

Marijuana
(Unsplash stock image)

The recreational, adult-use marijuana legislation introduced by Minnesota House lawmakers Monday, Feb. 1, may have already gone up-in-smoke with both lakes area senators saying they don't support the measure.

Both Sen . Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, said they oppose the cannabis measure introduced by Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, because of worries about potential use by individuals under 21 years old and the costs, and consequences, of legalizing a drug many have spent years trying to reduce its use.

"I do have concerns about recreational, but I have always been a supporter of medicinal marijuana from the very beginning" said Eken. "I felt for medical purposes, by all means, we should allow for those purposes."

He said he heard testimony from parents with children suffering from seizures who have used the medical cannabis products and have seen a lessening of the severity of those seizures because of the medication.

"But when it comes to recreational, that is a different situation," he said. "I do see some of, not just the public costs associated with it, but the social costs. We're trying to reduce the amount of drug use in our society, generally, we're dealing with a lot of other drugs that have been devastating...I think it kind of goes against our message against drugs generally, which is we want to reduce it."

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Eken said he doesn't support Winkler's recreational, adult-use marijuana legislation in it's current form, but is in favor of more research being done about the positive and negative aspects of recreational marijuana use from the states that have already legalized recreation cannabis.

Utke said he believes marijuana is a "gateway" drug and can lead to other, more serious, drugs in the future. He also said there "isn't a good reason" to legalize cannabis.

"No matter what (Winkler's) got in his bill for legalized, recreational cannabis, I'm totally against it," Utke said.

He also said he doesn't see any positives aspects of legalization that would outweigh the negative societal costs from recreational, adult-use cannabis.

With GOP-control of the Minnesota Senate, 34 GOP members to 31 DFL members and two former-DFL-member independents, a loss of support from any DFL senator will make the bill's path into state law more difficult.

The bill is not expected to be brought up for a vote in the Minnesota Senate during this session due to strong opposition by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, GOP-Baxter.

"We are focused on the Minnesota Priorities that balance the budget without raising taxes, safely reopen schools and businesses to recover our economy, and support families. I would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority," said Gazelka, in a released statement. "My main concerns are the unintended consequences of recreational pot similar to the concerns we all have about tobacco, drinking, or prescription drug abuse. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences."

Gazelka also said he is open to looking at additional medical uses cannabis might possess and having "a conversation around drug sentencing," a point raised by DFL lawmakers, whom have said black Minnesotans make up 5% of the state population, but 30% of cannabis arrests even though their usage is similar to white Minnesotans.

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"We're just starting to learn about legalization's adverse effects in other states like Colorado and Washington," he said. "There is no reason to rush this in Minnesota without learning more."

The bill would create a regulatory structure for a micro-business-style craft market of recreational cannabis use for adults over 21 years old. Adults would be allowed to carry up to 1.5 ounces and possess up to 10 pounds in a private residence. The bill would also allow up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrate to be carried for personal use. For home growing, the bill would allow up to eight plants to be grown in a single residence with no more than four flowering plants at one time.

The legislation would also expunge misdemeanor cannabis convictions and implement a review panel for felony cannabis expungements.

Revenues generated by the sales of recreational cannabis would be used to fund public health awareness, youth access prevention and substance abuse, and treatment, programs. Additional funds would be allocated to provide grants, loans and technical assistance for small businesses, as well as, provide testing and labelling for all cannabis products.

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