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Rochester lawmaker wants to let voters decide whether to legalize marijuana

Rochester lawmaker wants to let voters decide whether to legalize marijuana

A local lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would allow voters to decide though a referendum whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Minnesota.

State Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) says the legislation would allow for more personal freedom and a "robust, competitive market" in which small producers and sellers could participate. Under her proposal, sales would be taxed, and the proceeds focused on chemical dependency and mental health education and treatment.

“Minnesotans know that the prohibition on cannabis is costly, harmful and antiquated,” Liebling wrote in a statement. “Estimates of the cost of cannabis enforcement in Minnesota range from $42 million a year for possession offenses alone to $137 million a year for all cannabis arrests. Yet Minnesotans spend perhaps $700 million a year on cannabis, indirectly helping fund crime through an enormous black market. All this for a substance that — while not harmless — is far safer than alcohol."

She added, “My bill would let citizens decide whether it is time to try a different path — one already successfully paved by many other states.”

Minnesota passed a bill in 2014 allowing cannabis to be used for medical use. One of the strictest of its kind in the country, the law prohibits smoking of cannabis and requires the plant be manufactured in pill or oil form. Only patients with severe medical conditions are eligible to use the drug. 

Liebling's bill is one of two being proposed in the state Legislature. The other, from Rep. Jon Applebaum (DFL-Minnetonka), would "regulate marijuana in a similar fashion to alcohol, with purchase, possession, and use only permitted by those aged 21 or older."

Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized cannabis for recreational use. However, with a Republican-controlled legislature, Minnesota faces an uphill battle toward doing the same. Additionally, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, opposes the legalization of marijuana.

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