ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) — During Wednesday night’s debate, the vice-presidential candidates discussed decriminalizing marijuana use across the country.
Here in Minnesota, the topic is still hotly debated. Many think making marijuana available for recreational use would help solve many issues in the state. However, those in law enforcement warn it could create a whole new set of problems.
“Some people are turning a blind eye to it. That’s certainly the case,” said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson. “As far as law enforcement, we’re still going to charge the crimes.”
Right now, marijuana is still illegal in Minnesota. Possession of less than 42.5 grams is a petty misdemeanor.
One Minnesota representative says many residents use the drug anyway.
“It brings Minnesotans in contact with this criminal element, exposing them to other danger,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, (DFL) Rochester. “We see that plenty of young people are using it. Having it be illegal and criminalized is not working.”
Liebling believes legalizing marijuana for recreational use would allow for better regulation of the drug as well as the creation of additional revenue for the state.
However, many in law enforcement point to the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana.
“Why would we legalize something that we know is a problem when people are driving?” asks Torgerson.
The sheriff along with the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association oppose recreational use, citing an increase in social issues in Colorado as a reason why Minnesota should not legalize.
Torgerson also warns of marijuana becoming more readily available for children even if not legal for them to buy, comparing it to vaping.
“If you prohibit for one group but legalize for another, it does not solve the problem,” Torgerson said. “Generally, it creates more problems.”
Yet Liebling says the way marijuana is currently treated by law enforcement is a problem. She says it’s a racial inequality problem.
“There is plenty of data to show that black people don’t use cannabis more often than white people but they sure get arrested and prosecuted more often for it,” said the DFL representative.
The DFL controlled State House has supported legalization legislation before, but those bills have been blocked by the Republican controlled State Senate.
“I do hope we do get a new Senate that is open to considering this,” Liebling said. “We can go forward, hear from the public and make good decisions about how to manage this.”
Liebling says revenue gained from the sale of marijuana is not her primary motivation for why it should be legalized for recreational use. She says those funds could be used marijuana education and research. It could also be used as funding for addiction treatment and mental health issues.
Currently, Minnesota has a medical marijuana program which is popular but expensive users. The program is also only available to people with a specific set of conditions.