Rep. Dean Phillips wrote in a letter to his constituents on May 19 that he “believes that it’s time for us to … recognize the benefits of legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis.” He made that belief known by sending a letter to Minnesota’s legislative leaders endorsing House File 600. This bill, one of the few to be pushed this legislative session in the DFL-controlled House, would legalize adult use of cannabis in the state.
Ironically, in the same letter to constituents, Rep. Phillips reflected on his endorsement of Minnesota’s law enforcement officers on the House floor. Dean apparently is not aware of the opposition of many in law enforcement to the sweeping nature of HF 600.
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson is one. Rochester’s Fox 47 News reported that Torgerson spoke at a House committee hearing on behalf of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association. The Association has raised multiple concerns about legalization.
Torgerson’s primary concern was with the lack of an accurate roadside test for marijuana. Unlike with alcohol, “There is yet no way for law enforcement to test and confidently know when a driver is under the influence of marijuana at the time of contact, other than by observation,” Torgerson said. “Testing can only determine if the drug is in the system of an individual but cannot determine the level in one’s system.”
The sheriff said “we should all agree” to ensure better testing before going forward with the measure.
In the SD49 Pints & Pent-up forum in May, Reps. Nash and Hertaus expressed related concerns. Rep, Jim Nash (R, Waconia) said that his concerns with legalized cannabis went beyond a lack of an effective test of impairment. He pointed to a lack of cogent workplace rules to deal with users, which is not addressed in HF 600.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R, Greenfield) argued that the DFL is using the cannabis bill as a wedge issue to pander to libertarian and independent voters. He noted that we currently are unable to adequately treat mental illness and addiction in this state. In addition, “as an employer, my insurance company told me who I could hire to operate equipment. In my prime years as a contractor, about 65-70% of all applicants 20-30 years old were ineligible to be hired because of DWI convictions or other drug-related offenses. Legal cannabis would work against efforts to move more people into responsible and better-paying jobs.”
Although the bill passed in the House with some libertarian Republican support, it did not get taken up in the Republican-led Senate. Fox47 cited a recent emailed statement by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), in which he said he doesn’t consider legalization “a Minnesota priority.” Gazelka added he wants to see more research done first.
“I am open to looking at additional medicinal uses and a conversation around drug sentencing,” Gazelka said. “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.”
One of the reasons. Phillips stated for supporting HR 600 was that it would “expunge misdemeanor cannabis convictions from Minnesotans’ criminal records, thereby removing barriers to employment, housing, and other basic needs.” A bill that is limited to that objective might be a better route to achieve bi-partisan support.