At the Minnesota DFL convention in Duluth last month, 1,076 delegates cast ballots related to the party's 2014-15 action agenda. Resolutions ranged from taxes to veterans to recreational cannabis.
The last one needed 619 votes to pass, but ended up with 603, according to tally takers.
In other words, the activists who guide policy for the DFL -- the party that currently controls the House, the Senate, and the governor's office -- were 16 votes shy of making recreational cannabis a legislative priority for the next two years. That comes out to a mere 1.5 percent.
Had it passed, the DFL would have joined the Independence Party in believing recreational cannabis is an acceptable form of leisure, profitable to the state, and badly needed to stop wrongs committed in our criminal justice system. Some have gone so far as to declare its use a civil right.
Of course, it'll take more than a piece of paper to convince most legislators, especially those beholden to the state's powerful law enforcement lobbyists. Using cannabis for pleasure (or religious ceremony) is still a taboo position to hold in politics, and some top-ranking DFLers last session made the case for medical by blasting recreational.
To be fair, these statements came in response to opponents like Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), who has repeatedly conflated the two issues. Although the Ron Paul-type Republicans helped push a medical bill to the governor's desk, the MN GOP 2014 party platform is clear: "we are opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana."
The only DFL lawmaker so far to come out in support of legalizing cannabis -- Rep. Rena Moran (St. Paul) -- has no plans to author a bill next year. Still, she surprised more than a few observers when she took the stage at a rally in April, saying, "Let's create a system where we can tax and regulate the sale, so we can invest more wisely in all of us."
Others will have a chance to rise soon enough. Randy Quast, the executive director of MN NORML, says he intends to survey candidates to make sure his members vote smart. Moran coming forward is great, he adds, but "she can't be the only one standing out there."
Outside Minnesota, it's becoming clear that the sky hasn't fallen in states where cannabis is legal. Last month, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed the ballot referendum legalizing the plant, sounded optimistic when he told Reuters:
It seems like the people that were smoking before are mainly the people that are smoking now. If that's the case, what that means is that we're not going to have more drugged driving, or driving while high... But we are going to have a system where we're actually regulating and taxing something, and keeping that money in the state of Colorado...and we're not supporting a corrupt system of gangsters.Another bright spot to come out of the DFL convention: Delegates approved a resolution calling for legalized agricultural hemp. It was once a cash crop for southern Minnesota farmers and, during World War II, became a crucial component of cordage, parachutes, and other military necessities.
Don't believe us? Check out "Hemp for Victory," which was produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's on YouTube.