Minnesota Marijuana: A Tale of Two Parties

People advocating for the legalization of marijuana in Minneapolis
Source: Shutterstock

Polarization among American political parties has become more intense than ever, with each side gradually becoming more ferocious in its dislike for the other groups. That new normal seems to span even outside of the main two parties.

Even where people from different political backgrounds agree, they’ll still argue over the best way to reach the same end goal. Nowhere does that ring more true than in Minnesota, where there are two separate factions, both arguing for the legalization of recreational marijuana. The Legal Marijuana Now Party and the Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party have been vying for voters for decades now.

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Both parties achieved a significant milestone in 2018 when their candidates received over 5% of the vote for the State Auditor and Attorney general races in 2018. As a result, the parties received ‘major party’ status and were no longer required to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot. Although this designation has been largely positive, some members have been annoyed that anyone can run under the party banners now. Some candidates have no record of being involved the legalization movement and have ties to the GOP according to Grassroots Legalize Cannabis’ founder and US Senate candidate Oliver Steinberg.

The Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party

The Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party was the original pro-marijuana party in Minnesota, starting up in 1986. Its Mission Statement is as follows:

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“The Grassroots Party, is dedicated to personal freedom, justice, and peace. We uphold the Bill of Rights and work to repeal drug prohibition, restore civil liberties and environmental balance, and ensure equality through the political process. The primary purpose of the Grassroots Party is the total legalization of cannabis and the pardon and release of all prisoners held on so-called “marijuana” charges.”

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The Legal Marijuana Now Party

The Legal Marijuana Now Party is newer to Minnesota. The party’s introduction in 1998 served as a “progression” from the Grassroots counterpart, and it became an official state political party in Minnesota in 2014. It also has chapters in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

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The group’s slogan is “Free the Weed and Free the People” and it continually contends that Democrats and Republicans cannot come to a timely or fair agreement regarding weed. Here are the goals of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, as listed on the group’s website:

  • Legalize homegrown cannabis
  • Erase past marijuana convictions
  • Ban employment drug testing
  • Abolish the DEA
  • Combat pollution through the sustainable use of hemp
  • Support third party initiatives including rank choice voting

So why the two parties? And why not align with the democrats?

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One’s first assumption might be that the two parties both want cannabis legalized, but perhaps stand in staunch disagreement over what to do once that’s achieved. In fact, that isn’t the case. As you can see, the two parties have extremely similar goals and messaging. Some people within the parties would even like to see the two merge.

In the late 1990s, the treasurer of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, says he realized any vote for a party that so outwardly supported marijuana legalization would serve as clear evidence that the voter wants legal marijuana. The goal, therefore, is not necessarily to win or stuff Washington with people from these parties. Rather, it’s an effort to bring up that a good number of people want marijuana to be legalized, and that faction in Minnesota is only growing.

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The Candidates

Some activists have their feet in both parties. But in the 2020 election, the Legal Marijuana Now Party and Grassroots Legalize Cannabis Party face off head-to-head.

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In the race for the Senate, Kevin O’Connor of the Legal Marijuana Party and Oliver Steinberg from the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota are both on the ballot. They’ll have to contend with the incumbent Senator, Tina Smith (D) and Jason Lewis (R) who are also running. If either candidate receives 5% of the vote in this race, they’ll earn their respective party ballot access until 2024.

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A Congressional Candidate for the Legal Marijuana Party, Adam Weeks, passed away in September, which will force a special election in February for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. That happens any time a major party candidate dies within 79 days of the election. Parties are considered “major” if they garnered at least five percent of the vote in the previous election.

Weeks was just 38 years old when he died. The Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office is still working to determine a cause of death. Weeks spent much of his life as a Republican but switched parties before running for congress. The District he was running for spans from the suburbs in the southern portion of the Twin Cities out toward the southeastern area of the state. District 2 will not have a representative in Congress between January 4th and mid-February.

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A number of other candidates from both pro-marijuana groups are running for positions in other U.S. Representative districts, along with titles for state senate and state representatives, though they don’t overlap and have to face each other.

The Legal Marijuana Now Party also has a duo on the 2020 ballot for President and Vice President. Howie Hawkins is hoping to lead the country, and Angela Walker serves as his running mate.

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Other Parties Pushing For Change

There are other official political groups hoping for marijuana legalization as well. The U.S. Marijuana Party has active chapters in New Jersey and Vermont but has not yet reached Minnesota.

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The Green Party has also long been in favor of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana. The group hopes to redirect funds previously used for the War on Drugs to instead invest in research, education, counseling, and treatment. It would also expunge prior felony convictions for marijuana-related crimes and release anyone from jail serving time for those charges. The Green Party goes one step further, though, hoping to decriminalize all drugs in the United States.

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The Libertarian platform also advocates an end to the War on Drugs, saying it is, “ineffective at limiting access to dangerous drugs and, instead, empowers dangerous gangs that make incredible fortunes on the black market for these illegal drugs.”

In the past, the Anti-prohibition Party, the Marijuana Reform Party, and the Youth International Party fought for legal cannabis as well.

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Cannabis Laws in Minnesota

Right now in Minnesota, medical cannabis is available, but use of recreational weed remains illegal.

If you’re caught with 42.5 grams of pot or less in Minnesota, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, hit with a $200 fine, and told to take a drug education course. That charge remains the same whether you planned to sell the weed or keep it yourself. Above that marker is where things get ugly. Between 42.5 grams and 10 kilograms, you earn a felony, up to 5 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. Once you pass the 100-kilogram mark, you can be incarcerated for 30 years and owe the government a million dollars. Possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor. Cultivation is charged based on the total weight of all the plants found.

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Minnesota’s state constitution has outlawed the cultivation of marijuana since 1935, and Democrats in the area aren’t interested in marijuana legalization measures that also do away with licensing for the cultivation of weed. However, the chair of the Legal Marijuana Now Party has made clear he has no interest in challenging incumbent Democrats whose vision overlaps with the goals of the party.

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