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State Rep. Carly Melin questions cops on the economic interests of opposing pot

State Rep. Carly Melin questions cops on the economic interests of opposing pot
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Just about everyone who's met privately with Minnesota's top cops to talk medical marijuana has walked away from negotiations using the same two words -- brick wall.

"They had blanket opposition to marijuana reform," State Rep. Carly Melin (DFL) told us last month while we were researching a story about the upcoming legislation. "There were no provisions in the bill they could support and they weren't willing to work with us at all."

SEE ALSO: When will medical marijuana be legal in Minnesota?

But last week, in an interview with Politics in Minnesota's Mike Mosedale , Melin revealed one of the objections of law enforcement, which has yet to be aired aloud -- that any marijuana reform could lead to reductions in the $4.2 million worth of federal grants propping up the drug-enforcement tasks forces around the state.

"I don't think it's part of the debate because they wouldn't publicly admit that it's even an issue," Melin told PIM, adding: "Nobody wants to question the motives or honesty of law enforcement."

Many of the concerns of law enforcement officials have already been addressed in the medical marijuana bill that's coming up for debate soon. The bill as it stands goes so far as to prohibit patients from smoking marijuana in front of children and would criminalize any patients who divert even a small amount of their supply.

It's a point that has led even cops to question the true motives of their bosses. As Mosedale pointed out, Minnesota seized approximately $8.3 million of cash and property in 2012 under the state's forfeiture law, which allows police departments to seize (and sell) the assets of suspected dealers.

"If you go back four decades, only the criminals were making millions of dollars," says Maj. Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a national group that lobbies against the War on Drugs. "Now everybody's got a piece of the pie -- even cops -- with our federal grants and asset forfeitures."

As chief of human resources for Baltimore police, Franklin's job was "to keep money coming in so I could keep cops on the street," he says. The Department of Justice implemented the civil asset forfeiture program in the 1980s as a tool to go after drug kingpins, but it's been widely applied.

"If they take two grand from you, it might not be worth fighting because it's going to cost you more to get it back," Franklin says.

At home, the concerns that medical marijuana reform could result in fewer federal dollars are unfounded, according to State Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL), a former narcotics officer.

"We're not talking about full legalization of cannabis," says Schoen, a sponsor of the medical marijuana bill, "and I think that's some of the disconnect."

Representatives from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, and Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association did not return our messages seeking comment.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to jmarx@citypages.com


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