Our View: Minnesota can't legalize pot with another plan that's half-baked

We believe Minnesota has learned from the mistakes it made last year, so the rollout of recreational marijuana sales should be considerably smoother.

Our View editorial graphic
Our View

Barring any last-minute surprises from DFL leaders in the Legislature, Minnesotans will be able to legally purchase and smoke marijuana recreationally beginning Aug. 1.

Companion bills (that aren't identical) already have passed in the House and Senate, with two Republicans in the House breaking ranks to support the plan. Those two votes might be enough for some DFLers to call the bill “bipartisan” as party leaders try to reconcile the two bills and send a final version to Gov. Walz, but make no mistake – this is a DFL-driven plan that likely would have been dead in the water if the GOP wielded any power in St. Paul.

So, is the DFL getting this right? Should Minnesota become the 23rd state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana?

The answer to the second question above is yes, but the jury is still out on the first.

In the big picture, we strongly endorse the decriminalization of a substance that, even if its use increases dramatically, will more than likely ruin fewer lives than do tobacco and alcohol. While illegal trafficking of marijuana won't stop entirely, we like the plan to bring its sale into the open, at licensed retail shops, with the state reaping sales taxes and an additional tax of 8-10% that, among other things, will fund programs to combat cannabis abuse.


In addition to creating new state revenue at the point of sale, legalization of marijuana also will save both money and time elsewhere. In 2021, law enforcement agencies made more 4,167 marijuana-related arrests, and more than 4,000 of those arrests were for possession, not sales.

Our state's justice system has better things to do than prosecuting people for possessing and/or responsibly using marijuana, and we look forward to the day when more than 60,000 nonviolent “criminals” in Minnesota will see marijuana-related offenses expunged from their records.

But still, the devil is in the details.

Last year, when the Minnesota Legislature voted to legalize the sale and consumption of THC edibles, confusion was the order of the day. The plan was approved quietly, and some Republicans later admitted that they hadn't fully understood the bill when they voted for it. National publications ran stories under headlines like this one from Politico: “Did Minnesota accidentally legalize weed?”

Marijuana leaf

Suffice to say that this cake came out of the oven half-baked, and for a few months Minnesota was the wild west of THC and CBD sales. Retailers weren't sure what they could and couldn't sell, and law enforcement agencies didn't really know, either. As a result, it's entirely possible (perhaps probable) that many first-time users unwittingly purchased and consumed products with potency that exceeded legal limits.

Minnesota must do better this time. Marijuana retailers will need to know exactly what they can and cannot sell, and where and how they are to obtain the products that will appear on their shelves. Likewise, consumers will need reliable information about the potency of the marijuana they buy.

We believe Minnesota has learned from the mistakes it made last year, so the rollout of recreational marijuana sales should be considerably smoother.

But other concerns persist – especially regarding people's behavior while under the influence of marijuana. Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, who joined with every Senate Republican in opposing the legalization proposal, summed things up rather succinctly: “Our law enforcement is against this bill. There are just too many questions about how, if, we can ensure public safety. Number one is we don't have a reliable road test.”


Nelson is absolutely correct. Pretty much everyone knows that the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers is .08, and law enforcement has multiple tests at its disposal to document a driver's level of impairment – but marijuana is another matter.

Multiple companies across the nation are working to develop breath tests, saliva tests and even brain-imaging technology that will measure THC levels for police use, but even if those tests become widely available, there is considerable disagreement about what level will constitute impairment – especially since THC can linger in your system for days or even weeks after you use marijuana.

The issue of abuse has ramifications beyond the highways, too. Will employers be able to prohibit workers from smoking marijuana during their breaks? Or fire workers who show up under the influence? While sales would be limited to people 21 and over, will it be illegal to smoke marijuana indoors when children are present? Will it be illegal for a passenger in a car to smoke marijuana? What about in a public park? Or on a beach? And who will set those rules?

smoking pot
Where will marijuana smoking be allowed and forbidden?
Cabezonication/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Like alcohol, marijuana is an intoxicant. And like tobacco, second-hand exposure to marijuana can cause long-term health risks as well as immediate neurological effects. Therefore, we'd argue that the rules governing recreational marijuana should, at a minimum, mirror those for tobacco and alcohol.

For example, you can't have an open bottle of whiskey in a car, even if the driver hasn't had a sip. The same logic should apply to a marijuana joint. Likewise, every location where smoking is prohibited should forbid recreational marijuana, too.

Ultimately, however, the success or failure of Minnesota's transition to allowing recreational marijuana will depend not on laws but on individual choice – and we'd point out that from a health perspective, the best choice is to abstain. Legalization of marijuana is no guarantee against long-term health problems, and at the very least, we'd advise that new arrivals to this party tip their toes into the pool very, very slowly.

For those who are experienced users of marijuana, we'd stress moderation and personal responsibility. Plan ahead. Know your limits. If there's any doubt about your condition, call for a ride. And finally, consider the children in your life. Even “High Times” magazine advises parents to avoid exposing kids to secondhand smoke and to keep all marijuana products out of kids' reach.

Ultimately, kids tend to mimic their parents. So, if you don't want your teenagers to smoke marijuana when they go off to college, you might not want to toke in front of them when they are in high school.

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