BEMIDJI — A packed crowd of more than 50 people at Bemidji City Hall thoroughly discussed the concept of legalizing cannabis across the state of Minnesota on Saturday.
The town hall, organized by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, was helmed by Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, Golden Valley. During the event, he was joined by District 5A Rep. John Persell, Bemidji, and special guest Tom Gallagher, an attorney who focuses on driving and impairment.
"We're here because the laws are changing in a lot of states," Winkler said. "Legalization is happening one way or another. What we're trying to do is make sure Minnesota's laws work for our state, and that we understand what people's goals and concerns are."
In his comments, Persell said "We've been talking about this issue for a long time. I think it's a good undertaking.
"I come at it from a veterans perspective, in that I know many of my fellow veterans would rather use THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) than opioids for chronic pain and do so successfully," Persell said. "We know there are benefits, and that's where I'm coming from primarily, how we get those benefits in our society.
Concerns and points made during the town hall included the possibility of expunging records after legalization, accessibility for veterans moving forward, how local government units would act as licensures and how to ensure small business models for cannabis sales.
"Ultimately, we expect this to be a bill introduced in the state House," Winkler said. "Between now and February, we want to gather as much information and feedback as we can as we try to craft this policy."
Saturday's meeting was one of 15 Winkler is holding across the state, with the next two set to take place in Eden Prairie and Eagan. The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on Feb. 11.
States to have legalized both recreational and medical cannabis include Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.