MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time ever, a bill to legalize recreational marijuana will get a vote on the floor of the Minnesota House later this week. That bill is expected to pass with bipartisan support.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, it’s not likely to get a chance at a vote. However, as Esme Murphy reports, even in conservative circles, the times are changing.

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The driving force towards legalization is rapidly shifting public opinion. A 2014 Star Tribune/MPR News poll found 30% of Minnesotans were for legalization, 63% were against.

Six years later, just before the pandemic in February 2020, the same poll found the numbers flipped with 51% in favor and 37% against.

Republican Rep. Nolan West represents Blaine. Asked how his constituents feel about the issue, he said, “overall, I would say they are definitely supportive. The majority of most people realize alcohol and tobacco are already legal and far more dangerous.”

Democrats have extra incentive to pass legalization. Since 2019, two marijuana parties have had major party status. Those parties are widely believed to siphon more votes from Democrats than Republicans.

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The new marijuana parties have championed long held concerns that current marijuana laws disproportionately affect people of color.

Michael Ford is the executive director of MN NORML, which is a statewide affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

“In Minneapolis, Minnesota, specifically Black people, are nine times more likely, between five and nine times more likely to be locked up for cannabis offense,” Ford said.

Republicans in the Senate are expected to block the bill. In February, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka released a statement, saying, “I would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority.”

Privately, Republican leaders admit legalizing pot is just a matter of when, not if, and a number point to the recent vote in conservative South Dakota legalizing marijuana.

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The marijuana vote will occur in the House later this week, possibly on Thursday.

Esme Murphy