WOODBURY, Minn. — Throughout the hour and a half they sat in their seats at the Woodbury Central Park amphitheater, Lyn Johnston and Susan Stindt each rang a cowbell when a speaker made a point they agreed with.
"They gave us bells to ring..." Johnston said.
"And we rang 'em," Sindt finished.
Both women, of South St. Paul and Maplewood respectively, support marijuana legalization — Sindt ran against Rep. Betty McCollum in 2018 as part of the Legal Marijuana Now Party. They were among an engaged crowd that attended a "Be Heard on Cannabis" session Tuesday, Nov. 19, the seventh in a series of 15 hosted by Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, to encourage community conversation about the legalization of marijuana for adult use. The cowbells, bright blue and branded with the name of the tour, were given out by Winkler's office at each stop.
Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, Rep. Steve Sandell, DFL-53B, Rep. Tou Xiong, DFL-53A, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, were also in attendance at the session.
In August, Winkler said in a Star Tribune op-ed that marijuana legalization for adult use would be a top priority for him as House majority leader after a push failed in the Republican-controlled Senate earlier this year. The House is expected to push for legalization in the 2020 legislative session, which begins Feb. 11.
The conversation highlighted the experiences of former Boulder County District Attorney Stanley Garnett and former Denver city attorney Doug Friednash, who both served as state officials when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.
Community members in attendance ranged from enthusiastically supportive to skeptical or concerned, but all seemed willing to engage in conversation and ask questions of the Colorado officials.
Garnett and Friednash were each opposed to legalization initially, they said. What changed Garnett's mind, he said, was a realization that criminalization wasn't working.
"Legalization and regulation of marijuana has some problems, but it's so much better than trying to prohibit it in a community through criminalization," Garnett said.
Both men encouraged Minnesota officials to begin gathering information now about what legalization would mean for state agencies. Garnett described state agencies in Colorado having to scramble after voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012.
"The best thing that's happening here is the legislature is dealing with this issue," he said of Minnesota.
A Pew Research Center survey released Nov. 14 showed 67% of Americans now support marijuana legalization. A poll conducted at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair showed just over 53% of polltakers in support of recreational legalization for people 21 and older.
The schedule for future "Be Heard on Cannabis" meetings can be found here.