DFL lawmakers call GOP request for special session on cannabis bill ‘preposterous’ and ‘outrageous’

DFL lawmakers call GOP request for special session on cannabis bill ‘preposterous’ and ‘outrageous’

DFL lawmakers call GOP request for special session on cannabis bill ‘preposterous’ and ‘outrageous’

Even before Minnesota’s new recreational marijuana bill goes into effect, House Republicans are calling for a special session to make changes to the law.

They say they’re concerned it will allow people under 21 to use or possess marijuana without any penalties if caught. They also want to give local communities more ability to restrict marijuana usage and sales and do something to further restrict the “black market” for illegal sales.

“We write to express deep concern with recent news stories suggesting that House File 100, a top priority for Minnesota Democrats, effectively legalized marijuana for children,” the letter signed by six Republican House members says. “Based on comments by the bill author, Senator Lindsey Port (D-Burnsville) this was an intentional choice on the part of Democrats.”

In a sharply worded response, Port accuses Republicans of “fearmongering” on the marijuana issue. “To insinuate that this legislation in any way supports, promotes, or encourages the use of cannabis by children is as reckless as it is foolish, and is simply wrong,” Port says. “While decriminalizing many aspects of cannabis use, some of the strictest legal penalties in the bill exist for those who sell to minors. Criminalizing young adults for possession maintains a cycle of harm, while aggressively going after those who illegally sell potentially unsafe products, especially to minors, provides the strongest path to eliminating the illicit market.”

Republicans who signed the letter led by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, say their concerns are serious about removing penalties for people under 21. “Legal consequences are a significant and important deterrent from youth addiction and can help avoid more grave issues later in life,” the GOP letter says. “This legislation deliberately took away an important tool for parents, law enforcement, and local communities to keep kids from harming themselves or others.”

“It’s preposterous,” says House marijuana bill author Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, in an interview recorded for “At Issue with Tom Hauser. “People under 21 cannot possess or use cannabis, and there’s a lot in the bill to keep … kids away from cannabis. We make it a crime to sell or give cannabis to someone under the age of 21, and there’s regulatory and civil penalties also for people or businesses to do that. We also devote serious money to curb substance use among young people, including things we know work like peer-to-peer education.”

Republicans want a special session to address the penalties issue for people under 21, giving local communities more power to regulate recreational marijuana and stronger measures to reduce the “black market” for marijuana that will likely thrive in the 18 months until there are licensed sellers in Minnesota.

Stephenson says a special session is unlikely and unnecessary but doesn’t rule out making changes in the next regular session. “Alcohol prohibition ended 100 years ago, and we still pass a liquor bill every few years,” he says. “I’m sure we’ll be readjusting cannabis for years to come.”

You can see the entire interview with Stephenson on “At Issue” at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.