Medical Marijuana Whats Next

In this June 17, 2015, file photo, marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. Following a strong showing in recent elections, candidates from two two pro-marijuana parties will automatically be on the November ballot in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

While they aren’t offering anywhere near a full slate of candidates, Legal Marijuana Now and Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidates could have an impact on several key “battleground” races in southern Minnesota.

Bill Rood is running as a Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party candidate in the 1st Congressional District, which stretches across southern Minnesota and includes most of Rice County, along with Steele, Waseca, Le Sueur and Nicollet counties.

The 1st District was one of the closest Congressional races in the nation in 2018, with Republican Jim Hagedorn defeating DFLer Dan Feehan by just 1,315 votes. Feehan’s back for a rematch, but now Rood is in the ring as well.

An activist since the Vietnam War era, Rood first ran for public office in the 1980s as a member of the Libertarian Party. Ideologically, he says he’s now much closer to the Green Party, claiming to agree with former Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein on “99% of issues.”

While he strongly backs the legalization of marijuana, Rood holds a broad range of left-leaning positions, as well as staunch opposition to both of the major parties, which he says primarily represent the wealthy and well-connected.

“I think that the people of the 1st Congressional District need to have an alternative to voting for a Republican or a Democrat,” he said.

The cornerstone of Rood’s campaign is a strong anti-interventionist campaign. He’s a sharp critic of the foreign policy of both parties and even left-leaning former Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, regarding it as “imperialist.”

Other local candidates include Jason Hoschette of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, who filed to run in Minnesota Senate District 20 and Adam Weeks, a member of the Legal Marijuana Now Party who is running in the 2nd Congressional District. District 20 includes the northern portion of Rice County, the southern part of Scott County and much of Le Sueur County.

Weeks picked up an endorsement on Thursday from Paula Overby, who is currently running as a DFLer for Smith’s seat. Previously, Overby was the Independence Party nominee in the 2nd District in 2018 and the Green Party candidate for Smith’s seat in 2018. The 2nd District is primarily comprised of the southern Twin Cities suburbs, but it comes far enough south to include Northfield and Kenyon. It’s a competitive district which narrowly voted for Trump in 2016 before it elected Rep. Angie Craig, DFL-Eagan.

A Northfield High School graduate, Weeks is now a farmer in Goodhue County. He grows vegetables without any use of chemical pesticides or herbicides and sells them locally. Like many in his party, Weeks’ number one issue is supporting marijuana legalization. He said that the measure would be an important first step as part of a broader commitment to criminal justice reform in the wake of Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death at the hand of police.

“This past week reminded us that our justice system is anything but just for people of color. We can do better,” he said in a statement. “Legalizing marijuana is the first step. Our entire justice system needs reform, from bottom to top.”

Weeks also said he’s running in opposition to the two-party system and political partisanship. Blasting both major parties as “corrupt” and beholden to “Washington fat cats,” he pledged to be an “independent voice” for the district.

Northfield voters will also have the option to support a Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis candidate, Hoschette, for state Senate. The seat is currently held by Republican Rich Draheim.

Draheim defeated an incumbent DFLer, Kevin Dahle, to win the seat in 2016. He’s facing a challenge this year from Jon Olson, a U.S. Navy veteran and Carleton College professor, in a district that includes both heavily liberal Northfield and conservative rural areas.

Hoschette couldn’t be reached for comment, despite multiple attempts, and Wright said he hasn’t managed to get ahold of him either. That said, Draheim and Olson both welcomed him to the race and said they look forward to a vigorous debate.

“I think it will be interesting to see the discussion between me, John and Rich when it comes to marijuana,” Olson said with a laugh.

Draheim said that he likes to see third party candidates on the ballot providing additional choice for voters. However, he expressed disappointment that many third parties wind up focusing too much on a single issue rather than taking a holistic approach to policy.

When it comes to marijuana policy, even Olson, who expressed a belief that marijuana legalization is “going to happen,” said that the state needs to be very careful and study the examples of other states, both good and bad, before moving ahead with legalization.

Draheim said that while it’s possible that marijuana legalization may make sense at some point down the road, now is not the time. He said that before the state could responsibly legalize marijuana, two major issues would need to be addressed.

First, under federal law it’s currently illegal for marijuana businesses to put money in a federally insured bank. Draheim said that in order to ensure the stability of legitimate businesses, a fix would need to be pursued, perhaps in coordination with the federal government. Secondly, he said a reliable, on the spot drug test would need to be developed to determine the presence of marijuana in drivers. Without such a test, police currently rely heavily on field sobriety tests, making it more difficult to catch intoxicated drivers.

In Senate District 23, a very different dynamic may be present on the ballot. That’s because in the largely rural, heavily conservative district, no DFLer filed to run against Sen. Julie Rosen of Vernon Center, leaving Legal Marijuana Now candidate David Pulkrabek as her only challenger.

Pulkrabek’s experience with cannabis is deeply personal. The military veteran fractured his spine while in the service and became dependent on fentanyl and oxycodone — until cannabis provided the relief he needed. Since then, Pulkrabek has been a vocal advocate for legalizing marijuana. He voiced sharp criticism of the state’s current medical marijuana program, which is among the most restrictive in the country.

“The legislature has done some good work, on this but there’s a long way to go,” Pulkrabek said. “The main thing is that people don’t have access to it, and prices are pretty high compared to other states.”

Pulkrabek said that by legalizing marijuana, the state could not only make the drug more accessible to those who need it to relieve pain, but also provide much needed revenue for a variety of programs at a time of fiscal crisis.

“When it comes to alcohol, we have no problem taxing that,” he said. “Gambling causes more problems than alcohol, so why not take tax dollars from a healing plant rather than from things we already tax?”

Marijuana may be the main issue on Pulkrabek’s agenda, but it’s not the only issue. If elected, he promised to advocate for the district’s farmers, work to improve the state’s education system, reduce the cost of college and be a responsive representative.

Rosen, who chairs the Senate’s Finance Committee, is unmoved by financial and other arguments for marijuana legalization. She expressed particular concern that the legalization of marijuana could harm children.

“My entire legislative career, I have worked on drug-related issues and protecting children,” she said. “I have not seen nor heard a reasonable account of why we should be legalizing marijuana.”

Rosen was born and raised in Colorado, and much of her family still lives there. She expressed great consternation over the effects of marijuana legalization in that state and said its story should provide a cautionary tale for Minnesota lawmakers.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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