Speaking to a packed crowd at a pro-marijuana rally in the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, announced that she supports full legalization of the drug.
After saying that “prohibition has failed,” Moran declared, “So I say let’s legalize marijuana.”
The remark elicited a chorus of cheers from attendees at the rally, which was organized by the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Focusing on themes of social and racial justice, Moran called the disparity in marijuana arrest rates between blacks and whites “appalling.” Moran attributed that disparity to police policies that target crime “hot spots” in communities with large minority populations.
Arrests stemming from such crackdowns have damaging consequences when it comes to employment, housing and qualifying for public assistance, she said. “It affects families, it affects children, it affects communities,” Moran said.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union report that Moran cited, black Minnesotans are charged with marijuana possession about eight times more frequently than whites. It is the third highest disparity in the country, trailing only Iowa and Washington, D.C., the report concluded.
Those findings were echoed in another report released yesterday by the local think tank, Minnesota 20/20.
While a medical marijuana bill is scheduled to get another hearing before a Senate panel on Friday, full legalization has not been a part of the discussion at the Capitol this year.
Asked later whether she intends to introduce such a bill, Moran told PIM that she has no firm plans but will consider sponsoring one next session.
NORML has previously conducted rallies outside the Capitol on or near April 20 – a nod to the significance of “4/20” in pot smoker lore – but this year obtained a permit to hold the event in the rotunda. In another indication of NORML’s professionalization and improved finances, volunteers distributed free t-shirts and placards to attendees.
After Moran spoke, Nathan Ness – Minnesota NORML’s newly hired organizer and the brother of Duluth Mayor Don Ness – took the microphone and led the crowd in a zesty call-and-response chant: “What do we want?” “Legal weed!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
Ness went on to express disillusionment with the Democratic Party, calling out Gov. Mark Dayton in particular. Ness noted that the governor has pegged support for copper mining in northeast Minnesota to economic development and then questioned why he wouldn’t pay similar due to economic benefits that could accrue from a legal marijuana industry.