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Minnesota Headlines

Marijuana bill clears Minnesota House in historic vote

By MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press/Report for America
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota House passed a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use after hours of debate Thursday night in a historic vote that marked the first time either chamber has voted on legalization.
The bill — which would legalize marijuana use for adults and expunge minor marijuana convictions — passed on a 72-61 vote after nearly five hours of debate on the House floor. Passage of the bill was expected in the Democratic-controlled House but it is likely the end of the road for the issue this session, with Republicans who control the Senate saying they won’t bring it up.
Several Republicans joined Democrats to vote to pass the legislation authored by Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, after the measure steadily gained support from lawmakers across the aisle on its journey through a dozen committee stops before Thursday’s vote.
Winkler went to more than a dozen cities across Minnesota to get input from residents and build support for the proposal, which Democrats say would help address racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions among white and Black residents despite similar usage rates.
“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said on the House floor Thursday. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color, and especially Black Minnesotans.”
During debate before the vote, House GOP members pointed out several reservations with the bill, including the potential for increased driving under the influence, a lack of roadside tests for marijuana for law enforcement and uncertainty for businesses screening applicants who use cannabis, among other concerns.
Republicans in the House called the proposal a futile effort due to opposition in the Senate, where Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, has said the proposal is dead on arrival.
GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown — echoed by several other members of his caucus as the night went on — said the focus should instead be on reaching a deal on tax exemptions for businesses that received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and individuals who received unemployment benefits, as well as crafting the state’s two-year budget.
“Our voters sent us here to pass a state budget and at this point Democrats have passed zero budget bills,” Daudt said. “And with just a few days left in session, here we are wasting our time on this marijuana bill that has no chance of becoming law.”
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults to varying degrees, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Minnesota is one of many states that allow medical marijuana, but its restrictions are some of the country’s strictest.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, voiced his support for legalization via Twitter on Thursday, saying law enforcement uses significant resources to pursue minor marijuana offenses, which has led to “significant racial disparities in our criminal justice system and injustice in our communities.”
Longtime proponents of recreational marijuana say passage in the House alone is a heartening step towards legalization. The proposal will likely make a return during the 2022 legislative session and be a topic of debate for candidates in next year’s election.
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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Minnesota Headlines

No more mask mandate, but some Minnesotans will keep them

By MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press/Report for America
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On the first day that Minnesotans could go without a mask in public, Amber Raitz wasn’t about to do so.
It’s not that she disagrees with Gov. Tim Walz dropping the state’s mask requirement in public spaces, but Raitz, 48, said Friday that she plans to keep her mask on in public mainly to make people around her less nervous.
Raitz has been vaccinated and says she’s not nervous about contracting the coronavirus.
“I think from the beginning, people do what’s in the best interest for themselves and for their neighbors,” she said.
Walz’s move to end the mask requirement he issued last July came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday.
Walz said he discarded the idea of requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks, saying it would be unenforceable. Raitz agreed. But she expected many people to do as she’s planning — continuing to wear masks in public for a while.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at a briefing Friday that the federal guidance is “a sign of progress” in state and federal vaccinations, as well as in the effectiveness of the vaccines. She urged unvaccinated people to seek out the vaccine and to wear a mask in the meantime. The relaxing of restrictions is likely to be followed by growing case numbers, she said.
“I think that’s mitigated to some degree by the fact that more activity is happening outside in the Minnesota spring and summer, and the fact that vaccination rates do continue to march steadily upward — not as quickly as we would like but still making forward progress everyday,” she said.
About 61% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 51% have been fully inoculated as of Wednesday. That’s short of the previous 70% threshold Walz set for lifting his mask mandate before the change in federal guidance. Despite the new guidance, cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul decided to keep mask mandates in effect for the time being.
“Minneapolis is nearing the end of this long journey, and our city is coming alive again — so we take this precaution to continue that consistent march in the right direction,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Thursday. “There is good reason for hope in the Twin Cities.”
Liban Alishire, a co-owner of Jigjiga Event Center in south Minneapolis, said he fully supports lifting the mask mandate and all other restrictions as soon as possible. Alishire said his venue was shuttered for much of the pandemic, and when the governor started to relax restrictions, the capacity limits were confusing.
Alishire said he believes enough of the state’s population has gotten the vaccine for life to go back to how it was before the pandemic, and for him to host weddings and other gatherings with no restrictions.
Malcolm said Friday that Minnesota has seen steady reductions in case growth in recent weeks but there is “still a lot of virus circulating in our communities.”
The CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues. It also removes the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Minnesota Headlines

City where Daunte Wright shot to vote on policing changes

By AMY FORLITI Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Leaders in the Minneapolis suburb where a police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April are expected to vote Saturday on a resolution that would put the city on track to major changes to its policing practices.
The resolution, backed by Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, would create new divisions of unarmed civilian employees to handle non-moving traffic violations and respond to mental health crises. It would also limit situations in which officers can make arrests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota called the proposed changes “an important first move” in changing policing. But several police groups raised concerns, saying parts of the resolution conflict with state law and will put public safety at risk.
The city attorney said in a Friday memo to City Council members that adopting the resolution wouldn’t be a final action, but would commit the city to change.
Elliott introduced the resolution last week, less than a month after then-Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter, who is white, fatally shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist, setting off protests in the city. The city’s police chief, who has since stepped down, said at the time he believed Potter meant to use her Taser on Wright during the April 11 stop instead of her handgun. She’s charged with second-degree manslaughter and has also resigned.
Some City Council members in Minneapolis failed last year to overhaul that city’s police department in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and are mounting another effort this year. The move in Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb of just 30,000 people, echoes some of the ideas in the Minneapolis plan.
On Twitter last week, Elliott called the plan “a common sense approach to public safety” that would make police “not the only option when our community is in need.”
Wright’s death came after he was pulled over for what police said was expired tags — the kind of traffic stop that many community members say often unfairly targets people of color. It escalated when, according to police, they realized Wright was wanted on a felony warrant.
The Brooklyn Center resolution would put enforcement of non-moving traffic violations — such as Wright’s expired tags — in the hands of unarmed civilians.
It would also create a department of unarmed workers trained to respond to medical and mental health calls, addressing another frequent criticism that 911 calls can end in the death of someone in crisis when confronted by armed officers.
And it would create a new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention to oversee efforts on community health and public safety, led by a director with public health expertise.
The resolution would also require more de-escalation efforts by police before using deadly force; ban deadly force in some situations, such as firing on moving cars; and bar arrests or searches of people during non-moving traffic violations, non-felony offenses or warrants.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Law Enforcement Labor Services, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association wrote to the City Council urging them to reject the resolution, saying parts of it conflict with several state statutes. And they said it would be dangerous to have civilians take over certain policing situations, both for the public and the civilian workers, and would likely lead to criminals fleeing.
The resolution is named for Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old man with autism and mental illness who was fatally shot by officers in June. Officers in that incident were not charged.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright

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Minnesota Headlines

Target suspends in-store sales of sports cards, cites safety

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Target on Friday cited safety concerns in suspending in-store sales of sports and Pokemon trading cards, but it made no mention of a recent fight over cards outside a Wisconsin store.
Although the Minneapolis-based retailer didn’t give a direct reason for the change, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that it came after police in Brookfield, Wisconsin, said four men attacked another man over cards on May 7.
“The safety of our guests and our team is our top priority,” Target said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to temporarily suspend the sale of MLB, NFL, NBA and Pokémon trading cards within our stores, effective May 14. Guests can continue to shop these cards online at Target.com.”
Dave Bonde, president of Twin Cities Sports Collectors Club, said sports cards have been rising in value over the past year for several reasons: the emergence of some exciting rookies in baseball; the release of a documentary about the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan years; and Kobe Bryant’s untimely death. He also said card companies are printing fewer cards.
“The boxes of cards are not as readily available as they once were in the ’80s and ’90s,” Bonde said.
He cited a 2011 Topps “update” card for Angels star Mike Trout.
“Up to a year ago, it was probably a $20-25 card,” Bonde said. “Now it’s approaching over $1,000.”
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This story has been corrected to show the collector’s last name is Bonde, not Bondi.

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Minnesota Headlines

Federal arraignment in July for 3 ex-cops in Floyd’s death

By AMY FORLITI Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three former Minneapolis police officers who are charged with violating George Floyd’ s civil rights are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in July, with a trial date to be determined.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao will be arraigned on civil rights violations on July 14 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, according to a scheduling order issued Friday. The court initially said the trial would be in August, but updated the schedule hours later to say it was still unscheduled.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the former officers, along with their colleague Derek Chauvin, for allegedly willfully violating Floyd’s rights. Chauvin has already been convicted of state murder and manslaughter charges and is awaiting sentencing. It wasn’t immediately clear why he is not a part of Friday’s scheduling order, but he has not yet made an initial appearance on the federal charges.
Messages left with Chauvin’s attorney and with a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office weren’t immediately returned.
Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, even as Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Kueng and Lane also helped restrain Floyd — state prosecutors have said Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.
The federal indictment alleges Chauvin violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and from unreasonable force by a police officer. It charges Thao and Kueng with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not intervening to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.
Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the use of force and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are also charged on state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter. They are scheduled to face trial on those charges next March.
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This story has been updated to correct the date of the trial, after the court posted an amended notice saying the trial date is to be determined.
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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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Minnesota Legislature faces tough budget talks in week ahead

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As the Minnesota Legislature enters the last full week of its 2021 session, lawmakers face long hours of tough negotiations as they seek to agree on a balanced budget by next Monday’s mandatory adjournment date. And given the Legislature’s partisan split, the final package is expected to make only incremental changes instead of sweeping overhauls.
There are deep disagreements over what should be in the major spending bills that will form the core of the next two-year budget. The task of resolving them is harder this year than in 2019 because lawmakers are still meeting remotely due to the pandemic, with fewer chances for one-on-one deal-making.
If the divided Legislature can’t pass all its budget bills by the adjournment deadline, they’ll have to go into an overtime special session to finish the work. Here’s a look at some of the major issues in play:
THE BUDGET
The main two-year budget, which takes effect July 1, is built around 12 catch-all bills ranging from agriculture and education to public safety and taxes. Conference committees have been reviewing the differences between the House and Senate versions, but the real nitty gritty of trying to bridge those differences will get underway in the coming week.
Lawmakers were fortunate heading into the session that the state had a projected $1.6 billion surplus despite the pandemic. And state government is getting $2.6 billion from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package. So painful cuts aren’t on either side’s agenda.
TAXES
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and House Democrats proposed tax increases aimed at wealthy Minnesotans to provide ongoing funding for increased spending on education and other programs. But Senate Republicans have said tax increases are a non-starter. They say it makes no sense to raise taxes when there’s already a surplus.
The House tax bill creates a fifth income-tax bracket of 11.15% for couples filing jointly who earn $1 million or more, or $500,000 and up for individual filers, which would raise an estimated $564 million over two years. The Senate bill has bigger tax breaks for pandemic-related unemployment benefits and forgiven federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.
POLICING
It remains up in the air whether the Legislature will approve any major police accountability legislation this session. House Democrats, led by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, passed an ambitious slate of proposals aimed at building on a policing package enacted during a special session last summer.
But Senate Republicans have resisted further action — even after the conviction of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd — saying they want to give law enforcement agencies time to implement the changes of last summer. Policing bills didn’t even get a hearing in the Senate. Leaders have left it to a conference committee negotiating the public safety budget bill to see if any compromises are possible.
COVID-19
While Walz announced on Thursday that he’s lifting most of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions in time for Memorial Day weekend, Republicans say he didn’t go far enough. Disputes over how the Democratic governor uses his emergency powers to respond to the pandemic have strained relations at the Capitol since last summer. But House Democrats have blocked numerous GOP attempts to roll back those powers. Republicans aren’t giving up and hope to gain at least a voice in decisions over how Walz spends federal coronavirus relief money.
ELECTIONS
Senate Republicans have passed a voter ID bill, framing the issue as a way to ensure public confidence in elections. But the idea is going nowhere in the House. Democrats say Minnesota’s elections are already free and fair, and point out there’s no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem in the state. They say the bill is really aimed at suppressing turnout among minorities and the elderly. Minnesota voters rejected a voter ID amendment to the state constitution in 2012.
ENVIRONMENT
A battle is brewing in the conference committee for the bill that funds environmental programs, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Zoo. Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, of Alexandria, has threatened to block the entire bill unless Democrats agree to scuttle Gov. Tim Walz’s “clean car” plan, which aims to accelerate the switchover to electric vehicles. That threat raises the specter of a shutdown of state parks just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.
REDISTRICTING
Minnesota is going to keep its eight seats in the U.S. House, barring a successful challenge by New York state to the 2020 census results. But the granular data needed to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts to reflect population shifts away from rural Minnesota isn’t going to be available until later this year. So legislators haven’t been able to do much substantive work this session. And the partisan split between the House and Senate means the sides probably won’t agree on new maps anyway, so the job is expected to once again fall to the courts.
MARIJUANA
Legalizing recreational cannabis for adults has been a personal priority for Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who spent much of 2020 airing the proposal at public forums around the state. Winkler has promoted it as a matter of racial equity since Blacks are arrested for marijuana more often than whites, even though their usage rates are similar. His legalization bill is headed for a floor vote in the coming week.
But the Senate hasn’t given a single hearing to a companion bill. GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said from the beginning that he didn’t consider it a priority and saw no reason to rush before learning more about legalization’s adverse effects in other states. So the debate is likely to continue in the 2022 session — and the next election campaign.

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Minnesota Headlines

Big Minnesota Lottery winners will get to keep names private

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Big winners in the Minnesota Lottery will be able to keep their names confidential under a bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz this week.
The new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, makes the names of winners of cash prizes bigger than $10,000 private data unless they give written consent to the Minnesota Lottery to release that information. The same applies to winners of second-chance drawings for games than have them.
The lead sponsors — Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, and Democratic Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, of Eden Prairie — said the change was needed to protect the privacy of Powerball, Megamillions and other big winners, who have been targeted by criminals, sometimes even robbed or killed in other states.
The House and Senate each passed the bill unanimously, and the governor signed it Thursday. Minnesota will become one of about a dozen states that allow some lottery winners to remain anonymous.

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Minnesota community vaccination sites now taking walk-ins

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Vaccine-eligible Minnesotans can walk in for a COVID-19 shot without an appointment at the state’s Community Vaccination Program locations effective immediately, the governor’s office announced Friday.
“We want Minnesotans to pile in the car, walk in to a state site and get the whole family vaccinated,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement.
Walk-ins for Minnesotans age 16 and older are now accepted at the state sites in Bloomington at the Mall of America, St. Paul at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Lino Lakes and Oakdale. Walk-ins for Minnesotans 18 and up are now accepted at the Mankato, Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud sites. The federally-supported State Fairgrounds site is not currently accepting walk-ins.
The state is encouraging parents and guardians to join their 16- and 17-year-olds and get vaccinated at the same time. Community Vaccination Program sites can’t vaccinate 16- or 17-year-olds without parental or guardian consent, which can be provided at the location or during pre-registration for appointments made online at the state’s Vaccine Connector site.
Minnesota will lift nearly all its COVID-19 restrictions just before Memorial Day weekend and drop its statewide mask requirement no later than July 1, Walz announced Thursday. The mask mandate could go away even sooner once 70% of residents age 16 and older get their first dose of vaccine.

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Ruling lets Minnesota move forward with ‘clean car’ rules

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota regulators got a green light Friday to adopt new “clean car” rules without getting approval from the Legislature.
A ruling from an administrative law judge allows the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to move forward with its plan to write new regulations that would require manufacturers to deliver more electric cars and hybrids for sale at Minnesota car lots. The new rules would be similar to those in California and more than a dozen other states, the Star Tribune reported.
Several Republican lawmakers and auto dealers from across the state objected to the proposed rules, arguing that new emission standards should come from the Legislature. But Administrative Law Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig ruled that the agency has clear authority to adopt rules that address air pollution.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the rules since Democratic Gov. Tim Walz first announced plans to adopt them in 2019. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, of Alexandria, threatened this week to shut down the state’s environmental agencies, including state parks, by blocking an environmental budget unless Walz and the MPCA back down on the new emission rules.
But environmental groups and electric vehicle advocates praised Friday’s ruling, saying it will help Minnesota catch up to its goals to cut greenhouse gases and fight climate change.

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Minnesota Headlines

Minnesota marijuana bill heads to House floor vote next week

By MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press/Report for America
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Legislation that would legalize cannabis use for adults and expunge most minor marijuana convictions is expected to head to a full floor vote in the Minnesota House next week after a dozen hearings — the first time that a legalization bill has advanced so far in the state Legislature.
Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, the bill’s author, held forums in more than a dozen cities across the state to bolster support and develop the proposal, which he said has been steadily gaining momentum on its journey to its 12th and final hearing Friday.
“By involving so many people, by listening to concerns and by trying to address those concerns … we’ve built a lot of support,” Winkler said in an interview. “First among Democrats in the House and now increasingly with Republicans in the House — so far four Republicans have voted for the bill in committee and I expect to pick up more as we move to final passage in the House.”
Democrats have framed legalization as a racial equity issue in the state’s criminal justice system, which sees Black people arrested for marijuana more often than white people despite similar usage rates. Winkler said every community he visited during his tour pointed to equity as a crucial component, and he called it a “top reason” for shepherding the proposal forward.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 other states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults to varying degrees. Neighboring South Dakota, a heavily Republican state, passed it with 54% of the vote in November, although it still faces a court challenge there.
Minnesota is one of many states that allow medical marijuana, but its restrictions are some of the country’s strictest.
Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, said apprehension from Republicans comes from the complexity of the proposal, which touches labor laws, criminal law, sentencing, taxation and several other areas. Though he said he believes the proposal still needs work, Garofalo said Democrats’ acceptance of his amendment to use extra tax revenue from cannabis sales for a tax relief account appeals to fiscal conservatives, and he called the move a “big step in the right direction” toward garnering more support.
The legislation is likely to pass the Democratic House whenever it comes up next week but its chances remain slim in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, chairman the public safety and judiciary committee, is seen by Democrats and activists as a roadblock.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said early in the legislative session in February that he didn’t see cannabis legalization as a priority and that the effects of legalization in other states should be studied first. His spokeswoman said that leaves the caucus’ position with less than two weeks before the end of the regular session on May 17.
Leili Fatehi, campaign manager at Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, said preventing legalization is also politically advantageous for Senate Republicans. Several pro-marijuana third-party candidates were able to siphon votes from Democrats in key Senate districts during last November’s election, helping Republicans to narrowly hold onto their majority in the chamber.
Statewide ballot initiatives or referendums posed to voters — a method that other states have used to legalize cannabis — are not authorized in Minnesota, which Fatehi said makes legalization more challenging in the state. Fatehi said she and her organization see the 2022 election as the path forward.
“I think after this year, after (the proposal) making it off the House floor, Minnesotans are really ready for legalization and now they have something to look to in terms of differentiating between which legislators voted for the bill and which ones stood in opposition,” she said. “It’s going to be of major electoral consequence.”
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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.