Some places, it seems, are surprisingly behind the times.
A new poll released by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune finds less than a third of Minnesotans want to legalize marijuana like Colorado and Washington State. And barely half support medical weed, far below the 86 percent who now back it nationwide.
The results are somewhat confusing, given Minnesota’s history as a liberal state. It is one of just 17 that allows gay marriage.
But the left-leaning nature of Minnesota’s politics owe more to a nanny state mentality that views all drugs with suspicion than it does to the libertarian mindset of places more likely to legalize. The state is also home to the nation’s addiction rehab industry, with the Hazelden Clinic and countless other 12-step treatment programs holding great sway over regional drug politics.
According to the poll, 51 percent of Minnesotans want to adopt MMJ. Thirty percent of respondents, meanwhile, support full legalization while sixty-three percent oppose it. A whopping 41 percent oppose any change in drug laws.
Currently Minnesota applies what might be called “decriminalization light.” Possession of small amounts of weed is treated as a petty misdemeanor, a non-criminal offense punishable by at most a $200 fine. But violations still appear on criminal records and can make it impossible to find jobs or rent apartments.
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis. Another 19 have adopted medical marijuana.
National polls show a clear majority of Americans favor legalization, while large majorities back MMJ from coast to coast. That puts Minnesota in a distinct minority, in line with the Deep South – or worse.
Minnesotans, like residents throughout the culturally conservative Upper Midwest, remain hesitant about admitting their own drug use in polls, let alone supporting the drug use of their neighbors.
Just 26 percent admitted using pot while almost all Minnesotans over the age of 65 – 90 percent – said they had never smoked up. Those numbers simply don’t match more reliable drug use statistics, or common sense. They do, however, help explain residents’ negative image of marijuana.
Plans are in the works to allow medical weed, but they aren’t expected to go far. Lawmakers want to make it legal for patients to buy pot from one dispensary per county throughout the state. That would help patients like Patrick McClellan, a 47-year-old chef with muscular dystrophy.
“It was drilled into my head when I was a kid that it’s bad, evil,” he said.
McClellan said he first smoked after an especially agonizing attack of muscle spasms left him writhing between his bed and the wall of his bedroom for hours until his wife returned home.
When McClellan first told his doctors he used pot, “they were not surprised,” he said. “My neurologist told me, ‘It’s not going to hurt you. A lot of people find the same results. If it helps you, do it.’”
But McClellan isn’t likely to win the backing of the legal system anytime soon. Though Democrats, who are likely to vote for MMJ, control both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the proposal.
Dayton has said he will sign medical weed into law only once it has the full support of law enforcement. This will never happen, as police organizations have made plain and Dayton himself knows full well. The tactic is meant to pass off a hot potato in a state still not comfortable with a drug its residents enjoy just like everybody else.