ST. PAUL - Legalizing recreational marijuana would fall into the hands of voters if a proposal by State Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, makes its way through the Legislature.
He introduced an amendment to the state constitution Thursday to put a ballot measure for vote in the 2018 general election, allowing for the personal use, possession and purchase of marijuana by permitted users over the age of 21.
Metsa admittedly isn't confident the effort will reach a committee hearing but said it's time for Minnesota to start a conversation.
"It's a starting point," he said. "We need to start looking at the pros and cons of this prohibition and let [voters] determine if it's right for us."
In addition to allowing individual use, the amendment allows Minnesotans to plant and manufacture marijuana plants. He points to ample farmland across the state where a crop can grow into a made-in-Minnesota industry.
To go on the 2018 ballot, the measure needs to pass the state House and Senate, which would also be tasked with crafting guidelines for commercial regulation, taxation and the permitted amount a person is able to possess.
"I think if given the opportunity, Minnesotans would send a strong message to those who have kept in place a status quo, failed policy of prohibition that legalization is long overdue," he added.
Mesta was approached by law enforcement a few years about submitting a legalization bill, but felt the timing wasn't right. What's changed, he said, is more thorough studies on THC derivatives, and a recent spike in use of synthetic marijuana.
His bill is the second this week to appear in St. Paul on the subject of legalization. Deputy House Minority Leader Jon Applebaum, DFL-Minnetonka, introduced a bill Wednesday to simply legalize recreational marijuana, no ballot measure needed.
Like Metsa's offering, Applebaum calls for the Legislature to build regulations for licensing and manufacturing by 2019. He calls for the use, possession and purchase of up to 1 ounce, while manufacturers could grow up to six marijuana plants at a time. Smoking in public places and driving under the influence would remain illegal, he said.
"The world is changing, and Minnesotans are rightfully developing different attitudes on marijuana," Applebaum said in a release. "Other states' successes, along with the failed prohibition attempts of others, have validated the need for a statewide conversation on legalizing the personal, recreational use of marijuana."
Legalizing marijuana was passed by four states in November. Eight states in total - Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts - have laws legalizing recreational marijuana. Several other states, including Minnesota, have legalized medicinal use. Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved medicinal use in 2016.
"Most states which have legalized this product have done so through voter approved referenda, and I think this is the best course of action with many Minnesotans so passionate about this," Metsa said.