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Walz backs pot legalization in budget recommendations

The governor said the prohibition of marijuana hasn't worked for Minnesota, and the state should instead seek to harness its economic benefits and allow law enforcement to focus on violent crime. Walz's proposal to legalize marijuana recommends funding for a new Cannabis Management Office, grants for business owners, and education programs. It also calls for a tax on marijuana and expungement of nonviolent offenses involving marijuana.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz presents his administration's supplemental budget recommendations Wednesday, Jan. 26, to reporters at a news conference at the Department of Revenue in St. Paul.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — A public safety and health budget proposal from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan aimed at addressing a surge in violent crime through law enforcement funding and community programs also includes a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults.

At a Wednesday, Jan. 26, news conference explaining the final details of the administration’s supplemental budget recommendations, Walz and Flanagan touted their proposals to invest more than $300 million over the next three years on city, county and tribal public safety agencies across the state, as well as more than $60 million in grants for community efforts aimed at reducing youth crime.

It’s the latest set of recommendations part of billions in proposed spending from the governor’s office.

“The rash of crime we are seeing right now — the age is stunningly low. Thirteen, 14-year-olds, as young as 11,” Walz told reporters. “The process it's going to take to protect Minnesotans and to move back upstream to prevent that is going to take a coordinated community effort and it is going to take a budget that is both immediate for the protection of Minnesotans and long-term for reduction.”

The crime portion of the budget supplement proposal from Walz and Flanagan aligns with the legislative priorities laid out earlier this week by Democratic-Farmer-Labor House members in their $100 million public safety budget proposal. Like Walz, House Democrats in their proposal emphasized a “community” approach to law enforcement and investment in juvenile justice.

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Proposals from Republicans in control of the Minnesota Senate also called for grants to recruit and retain law enforcement officers across the state, but they also want to boost minimum sentences for offenses such as carjackings and other violent crimes. Senate Republican leadership announced its priorities for the session at a Wednesday news conference, including using the record $7.7 billion budget surplus for tax relief.

Walz and Flanagan's budget recommendations include hundreds of millions in clean energy, increasing access to affordable health care, and addressing homelessness — including $100 million to support affordable housing in the state.

With the House and Governor's Office controlled by the DFL and the Senate controlled by Republicans, proposals put out by each party this week will undergo an extensive compromise process during the legislative session and will likely not reflect the final product for the budget.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday laid out their top priorities for the 2022 legislative session: tax cuts, combatting crime and boosting student literacy.

OK, so about the pot

The governor’s proposal to legalize marijuana recommends funding for a new Cannabis Management Office to regulate the industry, grants for business owners seeking to enter the legal market, and education programs on the potential adverse effects of marijuana use. It also calls for a tax on marijuana and expungement of nonviolent offenses involving marijuana.

Walz and Flanagan said the prohibition of marijuana hasn't worked for Minnesota, and the state should instead seek to harness its economic benefits and allow law enforcement to focus on violent crime.

Legal recreational marijuana use for adults faces strong opposition in the Legislature and from a statewide coalition of groups. Groups including the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, the Minnesota Catholic Conference as well as the state trucking and police associations on Monday, Jan. 24, announced their formation of Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization .

Walz in the past said he would sign a legal recreational marijuana bill into law, but with opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, the legislation has never reached his desk.

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The Minnesota House in 2021 approved a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use and expunging prior convictions for low-level possession. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, on Wednesday morning said that bill remained alive in the second year of the legislative biennium, and Senate leaders could take it up if they wanted to. She said she didn't plan to hold additional hearings on the proposal in 2022. And Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said he didn't support the proposal.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com . Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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