Minnesotans are realizing that they got a lot more than they bargained for with the legalization of recreational marijuana on Aug. 1. Unfortunately, the flaws in the bill got little to no coverage during the legislative session. As a mom and legislator, I am concerned about the impact legalization will have on the mental and physical health of young people, on low-income communities, and the increased costs to all Minnesota taxpayers.
Recent articles have highlighted a number of concerns raised during session that could have been avoided had the law been crafted differently. The black market will be able to flourish because consumption and possession are now legal at least 18-24 months before legal sales of regulated marijuana products will begin. Minnesotans can now possess and give away up to two ounces of marijuana without penalty. They can also have eight plants (four flowering) and two pounds at home. For perspective, two pounds of marijuana is enough for 2,724 joints. This is an invitation for illegal sales.
Proponents of legalization said they wanted to eliminate the black market and ensure product quality. This law will do neither. The authors chose to rush through legalization to use as an election issue rather than wait until the regulated market is operational. Given the unregulated market’s significant head start, it is unlikely users will switch to more expensive products that are tested, packaged, and labeled once they have been using untested marijuana for such a long time. It is reckless policymaking that will harm Minnesotans.
The new law also does little to deter young people from using recreational marijuana. It has minimal penalties for either underage use, or for adults who give or sell marijuana to those under the legal age of 21. Multiple studies show that young users’ brain development is affected by marijuana and that young users have higher rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Minnesota’s alcohol laws impose a civil liability on adults when an underage minor gets drunk under their supervision, and then goes on to cause harm to someone else. The marijuana law failed to create a similar liability for adults who allow a child to use marijuana.
Legalization will exacerbate the current substance abuse and mental health crisis in our state. We already do not have enough treatment beds, addiction counselors, or doctors who specialize in addiction to handle the current caseload for alcohol, fentanyl, meth, and other drugs. The bill authors admitted legalization will increase financial and human costs for addiction and treatment, but they insisted it will somehow be worth it. The law provides more funding for state programs and non-profits to help mitigate increased mental health or addiction problems. Unfortunately, Minnesota families and taxpayers will bear these increased costs.
According to Sen. Lindsey Port, Minnesotans will also now be paying for “a form of reparation.” The bill established community renewal or “CanRenew” grants that will give $15 million annually to non-profit organizations for investments in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the prohibition of recreational marijuana.
Just as alcohol and tobacco laws in the 1990s disproportionately increased addiction, crime, and violence in low-income neighborhoods, we are setting up a similar scenario by intentionally targeting marijuana retail stores in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Studies from Colorado and Washington show that census blocks with either medical or recreational dispensaries had statistically significant increases in all forms of crime, except murder. These include increases in robberies and assaults. The Democrats’ decision to target poor and minority communities for retail marijuana sales is ensuring that communities already at the breaking point will bear the crime and health consequences of the marijuana trade.
Supporters of legalization didn’t dispute these studies. Instead they created a grant program to try to lessen the impact legalization will have on poor and minority communities. This is the Democrat pattern — create dangerous policy that will disproportionately harm kids, low-income families, and minority neighborhoods, and then create an “innovative grant program” to show you are addressing the problem you created.
Let’s not kid ourselves — the real beneficiaries of legalization will be mostly upper-middle class investors, national marijuana players, and criminals. Talk of economic development and supporting small entrepreneurs is window dressing to distract from the big companies that will benefit and the problems legalization will create throughout our state.
Make no mistake, Minnesota Democrats made intentional choices that will harm Minnesotans in a rush to pass this reckless legislation before the public fully understood the costs. My colleagues and I repeatedly raised these concerns and offered solutions, but these efforts were rejected. The Democrat majorities and Gov. Tim Walz intentionally enacted policies that will harm Minnesota to help industry and non-profit friends who lobbied for legalization. Minnesota families and communities deserve better.
Rep. Kristin Robbins is a Republican legislator from Maple Grove.