Independence Party becomes first major party to support legalization of marijuana

Minnesota is indeed home to one major party that supports the legalization of pot, but it isn't the Republicans or Democrats.

It's the Independence Party, which is one of just three parties in Minnesota with "major" status, attained when at least one of a party's candidates for statewide office wins 5 percent of the vote for four consecutive elections.

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That means Independence candidates like John Denney, the party's Sixth District candidate for U.S. Congress, will have the opportunity to share their unique political views during debates with candidates like Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Joe Perske.

Denney, a 28-year-old graduate of Forest Lake High School, characterizes Emmer as "bought and paid for by special interests."

"He has to be one of the most well-funded candidates in the state, so I don't intend to match him dollar for dollar," Denney says. "I intend to attack him online, through video releases -- that is, so long as we have net neutrality, which is a constitutional liberty and is another thing I'm running on."

This is the first election cycle where legalization of marijuana has been a part of Independence's platform.

"We have absolutely no shame in saying that we support the legalization of marijuana, however, it isn't something we intend to 'run on,'" Denney says. "It's very much a 'matter of fact' position for most of our candidates. I think I speak for most of the millennial generation when I say that this is something of a no-brainer, but I can't speak for my fellow [Independence] candidates, only myself."

Denney links Republican and Democratic views on pot with "the corruption rampant in Washington, D.C.," which he characterizes as his "number-one issue."

"That's why we can't get through a sensible drugs policy," Denney tells us. "We saw it play out in Minnesota with the law enforcement lobby heavily influencing the medical marijuana debate. That sort of thing has no place in health care decisions."

"That's a function of legalized bribery in our campaign system, and that's really what I'm running on," Denney says.

Emmer doesn't share Denney's sentiments about pot, of course. Back in 2009, he angrily called for the word "marijuana" to be removed from a medical marijuana bill then under consideration at the Legislature, with the term to be replaced by "pot."

"Let's call it what it is,'' Emmer said, alluding the difference between what he regards as medicine on one hand and drugs on the other. "Pot!"

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In high school, Denney was a standout amateur wrestler. He studied philosophy at St. Cloud State University, and is now getting a law degree from William Mitchell.

"I'm getting what I call a 'cut through the bullshit' degree, and you can quote me on that," Denney says, adding that he eventually wants to get into the utilities management business.

While running against a well-known Republican in the district Michele Bachmann currently calls home is no easy task, Denney says he won't be completely satisfied with his campaign unless he winds up in Washington. But even if that doesn't happen, he still thinks "there are successes that can be had in this campaign."

"Raising the visibility of the Independence Party in Minnesota with this generation, because a lot of us don't know it exists," he says. "We have to start earning the votes of the future, and we hope they can find a home with us because this is what it's gonna take to save the country -- really, we're going to need a third party."

Long-term goals aside, Denney doesn't think you should count him out this election season.

"The Sixth District is actually where the vast majority of the Independence base is from," he says. "I'm actually a liberty-loving candidate fiscally, and I don't think I need to play it up more than it is. Tom Emmer doesn't represent liberty, and I think I can do a better job."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]