Home / Bar Buzz / Bar Buzz: Senate goes to pot — and if you want to go with it, you’ll need a ticket

Bar Buzz: Senate goes to pot — and if you want to go with it, you’ll need a ticket

We’ve seen a few ticketed committee hearings in the House in recent years—particularly when gun legislation is on the docket.

They haven’t been as common in the Senate. Still, according to Senate Judiciary Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, Monday’s ticketed hearing in his Judiciary committee is not exactly off-the-charts weird.

“We see it from time to time,” he said. “It’s usually when we consider guns or labor issues.”

But 1 p.m. Senate Judiciary hearing—for which you will need a ticket to attend—isn’t about guns and it isn’t about workers. It’s about pot. If you’re hoping to get in, be forewarned that it’s first come, first served. Clearly, a crowd is expected.

Sen. Melisa Franzen’s Senate File 619 would legalize recreational use of cannabis for anyone who is at least 21 years old. It would allow regulated cultivation, consumption, use and possession of “cannabis, cannabis products and cannabis accessories.”

The bill’s House companion, House File 420 from Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, awaits action in the House Health and Human Services Policy committee. Which means the GOP-led Senate Judiciary committee will act on it first.

“I believe it’s something that’s timely,” said Limmer, who chooses which bills are heard in his committee. “I think the Legislature needs to have a full hearing.”

That probably shouldn’t be read as an endorsement by the GOP chair. He said he has invited testifiers both pro and con, from inside and outside the state to speak out on the measure. He says what he most wants to hear are the facts about pot policy.

“I have not heard of any concise, complete review of how this policy has turned out in other states,” Limmer said. “I haven’t heard the consequences.”

Limmer doesn’t hide his skepticism. While he acknowledges that pot polls well, he wonders whether proponents correctly balance the drug’s popularity with its health and safety costs. He wonders, too, how much politics is really what’s in play as DFLers try to pass the dutchie.

“On some of these big issues that are being pushed out, sometimes I wonder if they [the Democrats] are just kind of playing chicken with us in a way,” Limmer said.

If so, it’s not a game DFLers stand to win, at least not in Limmer’s committee. The nine-member panel includes just three Democrats. Still, if any of the six Republicans harbor libertarian tendencies, it’s not impossible that someone might reach over the line and vote with the DFL—assuming no Democrats are opposed.

We’ll soon know. The chair says that he will call for a vote on the bill.

“And I intend to vote,” he added, “one way or the other.”

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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