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'I don’t think it has a chance': Recreational marijuana faces uncertain future in Minnesota

State Sens. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, (at center) and Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, (right) along with Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, (left) on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 introduced a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Dana Ferguson / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL -- A bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators on Monday, Jan. 28, put forth a proposal aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

But it faced strong opposition right out of the chute.

Minutes after state Sens. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, and Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, along with Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, held a news conference to introduce the bills that would allow use of the drug for recreational use and set up regulatory frameworks to guide that a top Senate leader said it wouldn't fly in that chamber.

"Considering that it’s linked to mental health problems, driving accidents, and impaired teen brain development, I don’t think it has a chance to pass the Senate this year," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a statement.

Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the Senate and despite Jensen's support for the measure, it was unclear whether Senate Democrats could coalesce around the proposal and pick up one more Republican. Gazelka and other legislative leaders have said they don't plan to push the issue during the 2019 legislative session. DFL Gov. Tim Walz, meanwhile, said he supports the proposal and would like to see it come to a vote.

But the measure's sponsors said it was critical that lawmakers start talking about legalizing marijuana and setting the rules that should govern its growth, sale and use.

“(We need to) make sure it’s not the wild wild west as it is right now,” Franzen said.

Under the bill, Minnesotans 21 and older would be allowed to possess and use marijuana and previous convictions could be expunged. The bill also allows for the additional study of marijuana, education efforts to deter addiction and use among young people.

The measure's sponsors wavered on the likelihood of getting a bill through this year but said the state needed to pay attention to increased public support on the issue. Last year, two political parties formed to support legalization in Minnesota and a growing number of states have opted to legalize the drug. Legalization is "inevitable," the trio said.

“We cannot afford to get behind (on) this," Jensen said. "We have to get in front of this."

The bill is the latest proposal to push forward discussion about legalizing the drug for recreational use. Last week, Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, put forth a proposal to put the question before voters as a constitutional amendment.