Cannabis legalization has become an increasingly common topic of discussion in the United States. While President Trump hasn’t come out in direct support of legalization, there has been an increasing amount of pressure from congress towards, at the very least, studies into its viability. 9 states (and the District of Columbia) have already legalized cannabis for personal use. Prominent politicians, like former Speaker John Boehner, once staunchly anti-cannabis, have begun to voice support as well.
But, at the end of the day, it will be voters who eventually decide when and now legalization occurs in their state – even if it’s decriminalized or legalized in any/all forms on a federal level, it will be the people, you and me on the sidewalk, who will feel the effects of day-to-day change.
For a more intimate look at the way the general public feels about looming issue of legalization, we decided to hit the streets and hear what the good people, from states where carefree cannabis is still up for debate, think about it all.
First up? The good citizens of Minnesota.
Cannabis no crime in Minneapolis
Cannabis for medical use is currently legal in Minnesota, and the debate over full legalization has been ongoing (and has been heating up this year: Two new measures were introduced to expand Adult Use this past spring). Marijuana was decriminalized in Minnesota 1976, and anything less than 42.5 grams for personal use is considered a petty misdemeanor.
But you still can’t buy it, sell it, grow it, or use it in any form except for prescribed medicinal purposes – and you certainly can’t light up in public without swift backlash from law enforcement. Though that is changing quickly, at least in the city of Minneapolis: Jacob Frey, the so-called “Millennial Mayor” said in a statement early last June that
“I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest-level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level...”
And that law enforcement will no longer be conducting marijuana “sting” operations after the results showed clear racial bias. This means that, in the state’s largest city at least, you probably won’t get in trouble for a little recreational use (within reason).
This seems like a good place to start the discussion. How do people in Minneapolis feel about their new mayor’s stance on cannabis?
"It’s about damn time,” Clarence, 43, says, clapping his hands. He’s sitting in a Café in SouthMinneapolis as we talk to him. “All these rules about marijuana never made sense to me in the first place. People going to jail for nothing. Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?”
But not everyone shares in Clarence’s enthusiasm.
“I don’t like it at all,” Cora, 40, from the neighboring first-ring suburb of Golden Valley, shakes her head. “If we’re frivolous with something as marijuana then what’s next? We shouldn’t, and the Minneapolis mayor shouldn’t, be supporting this kind of behavior.”
Others have a problem with it for a different reason. Robert Allen, a former Minneapolis police officer and Deputy Chief, wrote in an Op-Ed to the Star Tribune (the state’s largest paper), that the mayor’s stance doesn’t go far enough, and could actually cause more problems in the short, and long, term:
“If we are truly interested in public safety by reducing violent crime, decriminalization may be the worst policy alternative: It increases the market for marijuana by reducing the disincentives to use it without providing a legal means for production and distribution. The risk of violence among black-marketeers certainly remains and may increase. Legalization through controlled distribution is a far safer policy alternative.”
(Read the full piece here: On net, Minneapolis policy change on marijuana enforcement harms public safety)
And outside of Minneapolis, where you might still get slapped with a pretty hefty fine or worse for possession, the arguments for and against legalization swing back and forth on a much larger pendulum.
“It’s like prohibition.” Vuong, 32, of Eagan, says. “Pure and simple. And you see what happened with Prohibition. They should just legalize it and be done with it.”
Any problems you see with legalization? Vuong shrugs.
“Like what?” Sofia, 39, asks. “How about the risk to youth? How will this be any different than cigarettes? Legal weed will make it easier for kids to get it, just as it will make it easier for adults to get it.”
"Well," Sam, 28, of Maplewood says, "kids don't really have trouble getting it as it is. Maybe legalization will bring potential problems out into the open, instead of forcing kids without proper education into alleys to try and find [it]."
But Sofia is not alone in her comparison to legal-but-regulated tobacco: One concern is that legalization will affect the population in a stranglehold fashion, paving the way for advertisements and a push for early use a la Big Tobacco.
“Do we really want businesses making a profit on marketing marijuana? Trying to get people hooked to make a buck?” Bobby, 30, asks. “I’m all for legalizing marijuana. I smoke myself sometimes, and I used to smoke a lot more. But letting big business take the reins is never a good idea.”
“Besides,” Anna, 29, says, “I don’t really want a bunch of people smoking when I go for my runs in the morning. I spent time in Colorado and I couldn’t go for my morning runs without smelling weed smoke. I think that’s a problem.” She pauses and says, “But I don’t want you to think I don’t support legalization. I do. I just think it needs to be regulated.”
Weed etiquette is a growing concern for many, for both those opposed and in support of legalization. As Carol, 39, of Inver Grove Heights tells us, “It’s something that can very easily get out of control. Smoking everywhere. Being rude.”
“You’re asking for trouble.” Sofia agrees. “If they don’t handle it correctly. Maybe they will. But if they don’t handle it correctly you’re asking for a world of trouble.”
Can(nabis) we all get along?
There’s also the concern about the lack of transparency in the politics relating to legalization; the more abstract consequences of legalizing something that was for most of the past century considered highly illegal, with the criminal charges to prove it.
“I’m a little concerned,” Mark, 41, from St. Paul says, “about the fact that youth and others from minority and low-income communities have been put in jail, breaking up families and ruining lives, and now the same people who helped put them there are going to profit immensely from [marijuana] simply because they flipped a switch from illegal to legal.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” Mary, 22, also of St. Paul, agrees. “It seems a little authoritarian to say one day that one thing will land you in prison and the next day it’s a business opportunity simply because they decided.”
But that’s why we’re having this discussion, right?
“But it’s not enough to say that, oh, it was illegal, and it was wrong and these people who are still in jail serving sentences as a result should have, I don’t know, known better, and then now it’s been made legal so, whatever it’s all good, let's just forget about the past. Morality doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t, depend on what the 'powers that be' think is okay.”
“But they should have know better,” Charles, 31, from Rosemount tells us. “It was the law. It is as simple as that. There’s no greater conspiracy. Was anybody crying about the bootleggers when they decided to repeal prohibition?”
“Was anybody concerned that the gangsters and the criminals that benefitted from selling illegal liquor had to serve time for it? Should we shed a tear for Al Capone and his henchman, too?”
Devon, 22, of St. Paul shakes his head. “There’s also a difference between Prohibition, back in the 1920’s, and marijuana legal or illegal today,” he says. “The anti-drug policies that led to so many incarcerated people, predominantly people of color, are nothing like the dry policies from 100 years ago that weren’t targeted toward specific groups.”
“Plus,” Julie, of Eagan, says, “there was a long history of alcohol being legal when they took it off the streets. Marijuana doesn’t have that benefit. It’s less about taking something away, like they did with Prohibition, as it is more introducing it legally for really the first time, at least in our lives, as they would be with marijuana legalization.”
A new measure was introduced last May in the Minnesota legislature. It is described as follows:
“Legislation is pending, HF 927 andSF 1320, to regulate adult use marijuana possession and provide for retail sales.
A third measure, HF 4541, was introduced on 5/20 to also regulate adult use marijuana possession and provide for retail sales.”
And Minnesota is certainly not alone: These three measures join dozens of other pieces of legislation introduced around the country, from Missouri to Utah, that will be decided before the end of 2018.
“All I know is,” Clarence says, smiling, his eyes wrinkling at the corners, “I'm just excited to kick back and relax with a joint without anyone worried about what I’m doing. Isn’t that what freedom is all about? Isn't freedom what this country is supposed to be about?”
Legalization, in some form or another, is one the horizon for the United States. This much is clear. What is less clear is what it will look like state by state, city by city, person by person as cannabis becomes an increasingly common piece of the public landscape – and whether those for, against, or indifferent to it will ever find common ground on which to stand, and perhaps smoke, together.
For more legalization news, check this out next: Cannabis Questions: Matthew Schweich of the Marijuana Policy Project.