Jesse Ventura embraces spotlight at Walz weed bill signing ceremony

The former governor issued an 11th-hour endorsement of Walz last November, taking credit Tuesday for being a "spark" in marijuana legalization in Minnesota.

Gov. Tim Walz, flanked by DFL legislators and former Gov. Jesse Ventura, signs a bill legalizing recreational marijuana into law Tuesday. (Office of Gov. Tim Walz/Flickr)

The morning after Gov. Tim Walz won re-election and it became apparent that the DFL would take control of both the Minnesota House and Senate, Jesse Ventura got a phone call.

It was Walz thanking the former wrestler-turned-governor for his 11th-hour political endorsement five days prior. The DFL incumbent then invited longtime, self-professed political independent Ventura to a predicted recreational cannabis legalization bill signing ceremony he said he was confident would take place during or upon conclusion of the 2023 legislative session. Ventura revealed this exchange in a post-midterm election podcast he co-hosted with his son Tyrel last November.

“Well, that’s the news I got today. And the thing that honors me, is I’ve been invited to when the bill gets signed,” Ventura said on the Nov. 10, 2022 podcast. Walz told Ventura, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate, “This started with you, so you deserve to see it come to a close over 20 years later.”

Six months later, Walz made good on his promise. And Ventura made the trip up from his home on the Mexican Baja peninsula to help Walz and a cavalcade of marijuana legalization advocates celebrate the occasion with a ceremonial signing of HF100 on Tuesday at the Minnesota Capitol.

“For me, personally, it’s very wonderful to see a dream of yours over 20 years ago to finally happen today and I am still alive to see it,” Ventura said, while wearing a dark blue t-shirt emblazoned with a ‘Seal Team One’ monogram, a reference to his service in the Navy. “And what press conference would there be if Jesse Ventura didn’t leave with something controversial right?”

“Jimi Hendrix is looking down on Minnesota smiling, today,” Ventura, smiling and hoisting a fist, told his audience of reporters and marijuana legalization advocates.

“Well said,” Walz told him.

While Walz and the DFL legislators who carried the bill in the House and Senate each had their moment in the sun during the Tuesday bill signing press conference, it was Ventura, the one-time, third-party political outsider turned Minnesota governor — now a part-time conspiracy theory and politics-related podcast and television show host — who put his own stamp on the legislative milestone, when he was at Walz’s side to speak to the moment — “an end to cannabis prohibition” — and field questions from media.

“I was a spark” that brought the marijuana conversation to Minnesota before it was mainstream, Ventura told reporters and supporters gathered for the signing ceremony, even as he credited his predecessors who brought cannabis legalization to fruition this session, thanks to a DFL “trifecta.”

“And it took many years of work by legislators, and Gov. Walz especially, to reach this point today,” Ventura said, with his wife Teri in the audience. “You learn that nothing in government happens overnight.”

Aug. 1 enactment date, expungements to start this summer

A package of recreational cannabis legalization legislation Walz signed into law on Tuesday includes an Aug. 1 enactment date making it legal for individuals to possess up to two ounces of recreational marijuana out of their home and up to two pounds inside their home. As of Aug. 1, individuals can also cultivate as many as eight cannabis plants on their property (four of which can be flowering). The new law also sets up the beginning of a regulatory framework that will, over the next 12 to 18 months, put in place a legal marketplace for retail sale of recreational cannabis in Minnesota. Also, a major component of HF100 includes an expungement process for those with petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor possession of marijuana on their records.

“We’ve got 50 years of records on folks we’ve been arresting, and it’s not going to unwind immediately,” Walz said about the expungement process. “We will start that process this summer and get moving on that and get folks’ records cleaned up as soon as we can.”

The bill passed earlier this session with support from two Republicans in the House, and on party lines in the Senate. Sponsors thanked supporters for what they called a collective effort to “develop the best marijuana legalization framework in the nation.”

“I have been saying that it has been a joint effort, yes, because I love a good pun,” said Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, who was clad in a green blazer and matching marijuana leaf earrings. “But because this really has been a community-focused bill, it has gotten here today, because of the people of Minnesota; you all stood up and said this is what we want, we are ready for this.

“We will see profit not just in a sort of fiscal way, but we will see growth and profit in our communities, in a way that allows our communities to build wealth, especially those communities that have been most harmed by prohibition.”

‘Jesse the Body’ as commissioner of cannabis regulation?

It’s been almost a quarter century since Ventura made his famous “we shocked the world” speech after winning the 1998 gubernatorial election. While the 71-year-old Ventura still easily slipped into his familiar “Jesse the Body” wrestling persona during the HF100 bill signing on Tuesday, he was at times was more reflective, and even spiritual in his tone, as he touched on how his role in pushing for marijuana legalization was a personal triumph for his own family.

In February, Ventura testified at the legislature in support of HF100, and recounted how he had gone to the lengths of illegally obtaining marijuana from Colorado for his wife over a decade ago when she was suffering from regular seizures. Ventura has openly stated that having access to cannabis has helped his wife with those ailments where prescription seizure medications failed.

“This is a huge day in our family’s life, because prohibition will now end. It’s gone on longer than I’ve been alive — the prohibition of a plant made by God. Well, now we were always told everything was here for us to use. Now in Minnesota we will be able to use this plant.”

At one point in the press conference, as reporters continued to pepper Ventura with questions about the legislation, Gov. Walz stepped in with an attempted tongue-in-cheek to field the question.

“I thought you were going to ask me a question about acting or wrestling, so I felt like we were trading positions here,” Walz joked with reporters.

With Ventura still standing next to Walz, reporters asked the current governor who he might hire to lead the newly created state Office of Cannabis Management. While Ventura has seemingly joked to media that he would be interested in the position, Walz only told reporters on Tuesday that his administration was working on developing job descriptions for the new department and said a candidate for its top position would need experience working with a host of other executive departments.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.