City Pages: Meet MRMR, the group that might actually get Minnesota ready for legal pot

Original Article

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 by Hannah Jones

It’s an exciting time to talk about legalizing recreational cannabis in Minnesota.

In one corner, you’ve got the optimists: people who think, thanks to Gov. Tim Walz and other sympathetic ears in government, legal weed is coming this year, or maybe in the next two or five. And after that, everything is going to be just gravy.

Then you have the pessimists: people who like to point out that there are skeptical legislators on both sides of the aisle, and that stodgy, Midwestern, ballot measure-less Minnesota has a budget and tax system to fix before its leaders even contemplate cannabis -- no matter how rabid its grassroots support. According to the Star Tribune, Minnesota House Democrats have already released a list of 10 priorities going into the session, and marijuana wasn’t among them.

Then, like the parent reminding you that if you want a dog, you have to put in the work and take care of it, you have the newly formed Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR), and co-founder Leili Fatehi.

“Marijuana is a complex subject area,” she says. “Legalizing it is not as easy as snapping your fingers and saying it’s legal.”

There are plenty of logistical reasons Minnesota legislators have given for why the state is, at the very least, “not ready” for legalization. That’s where MRMR, which draws its leadership from government and nonprofit sectors (Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey numbers among them), comes in. Together, its members (who are also from both sides of the aisle) are going to canvass the state and figure out what Minnesota would actually have to do in order to make legal marijuana a realistic prospect.

Fatehi and her fellow organizers want to know how they’re going to regulate marijuana once it’s legal for adults, so nobody tries to drive under the influence or offer it to kids. They want to make sure a diverse pool of entrepreneurs can all get a piece of the action. They want to expunge the criminal records of people who have already served time for possessing or selling pot.

Perhaps most importantly, they want to talk about where all that tax revenue from cannabis -- a promising bounty after the windfall legal states like Colorado have received -- is going to go.

If MRMR has its way, a good share will go to the communities that have been taking the brunt of arrests and incarcerations it took to get here. Lest anyone get caught up in the hype and forget, marijuana’s illegality, Fatehi says, has “absolutely devastated” entire communities of color. Places where “incidents of usage” are “no different” than they are in whiter, more affluent communities, but way more people still end up in handcuffs and prison.

Legal pot, in short, is not the simple, sexy political issue it is sometimes made out to be. It is a social justice issue, which must be carefully fleshed-out and put through its paces before it’s ready to be rolled out. Plenty of pro-legalization groups, Fatehi says, have been doing this hard work for a long time. Last election was the first in which Minnesota had not one, but two legitimate pro-legalization parties. MRMR’s goal is to amplify rather than replace them.

So, MRMR will be talking to legislators about legalization bills to be introduced -- maybe as soon as a few weeks from now -- and hosting educational events statewide. The organizers want to hear what people’s concerns are with cannabis. They want to know how people feel about what’s ahead.

Then, at last -- after much discussion and an exhaustive presentation of facts -- maybe Minnesota will finally be ready to join the legal cannabis club.