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Minn. Lawmakers Propose Recreational Marijuana Ballot Initiative

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- More Minnesota lawmakers are stepping forward Thursday with bills to legalize recreational marijuana.

Lawmakers are signing on to efforts to put the issue on the 2018 election ballot in a constitutional amendment. The bills let Minnesota voters -- not the legislature -- decide whether to legalize marijuana.

One of the most widely committed crimes in the state. The bills let voters decide whether to end Minnesota's decades-long ban on smoking, buying, or growing marijuana for personal use. Lawmakers are comparing current marijuana law to Prohibition.

"We tried that in this country in a grand experiment -- which was a dismal failure," Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) said. "It increased crime, it made criminals out of all kinds of different people. We're doing something similar with cannabis, and we need to stop."

Last year 6,829 Minnesotans were arrested for marijuana possession. That's 39 percent of all the drug arrests in the state. According to the FBI, African-Americans smoke pot only slightly more than whites, but are 10 times more likely to be arrested

One lawmaker says it's a "social justice" issue.

"Some, unfortunately, have gotten caught and prosecuted, and it holds them back from things like having a job for the recreational use they might have done in college, [not] knowing that this would follow them their whole life," Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) said.

A constitutional amendment -- if it passes -- goes straight to the ballot, bypassing Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who opposes legalization.

"I don't think it rises to the level of a constitutional amendment," Dayton said.

Studies estimate up to 21 percent of Minnesotans light up occasionally, and three of the four bill authors admitted to having smoked pot themselves.

While the legislators don't expect the bill to pass this year, or even in coming years, they say it's about starting a public conversation about legalization, since public polling trends seem to indicate its inevitability.

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