Nelson: Cannabis legalization bill rushed into law with troubling concerns

Senator Carla Nelson
3 min readJun 26, 2023

Friends and neighbors,

One of the high-profile issues of the 2023 legislative session was the drive to legalize recreational cannabis in Minnesota. It garnered significant coverage in the media, although it is not one of the top issues I hear about from constituents.

As a strong proponent and defender of personal liberty, there are some arguments in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis that I am sympathetic to. However, there are serious concerns with the issue in general, and significant problems with the specific bill that the legislature passed this year — concerns and problems that often are glossed over in media reports.

I understand that many Minnesotans are increasingly supportive of the effort to legalize cannabis, but I voted against the bill because it was simply premature.

The first and foremost concern is public safety. There are just too many questions about our ability to guarantee public safety under the bill the legislature passed. It is why virtually all, if not all, public safety officials opposed the bill — certainly every public safety official that reached out to me asked me to vote no.

Legalizing cannabis will make our communities and our roads less safe. The greatest concern is the lack of a field impairment test. When police pull over an individual suspected of driving intoxicated, there are tests to confirm those suspicions. With cannabis, there is a test to see if it’s in your blood, but not to determine if you are impaired. We do not have clear safety standards in place to ensure roads are safe.

What we do know for certain is that increased cannabis use is linked to an increase in traffic deaths: According to the National Institutes of Health, traffic deaths involving cannabis-impaired drivers jumped 138% after marijuana was legalized in Colorado! Traffic deaths for all drivers and for all drivers increased by 29%. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, there has been an increase in impaired driving cases in Washington state since legalization, and increases in fatal crashes in both Colorado and Washington.

The second concern is public health, especially for children. States that have legalized recreational cannabis have seen increases in overdoses and addiction. Shockingly, the new Minnesota law does not provide adequate support to prevent substance abuse or assist with addiction treatment.

According to a study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Cannabis Use Disorder increased at a rate 25% higher in cannabis legalization states than in states where it remained illegal.

Last year’s law legalizing cannabis edibles in Minnesota had terrible consequences for children: There were more than three times as many cannabis edible exposures in children in 2022 than there were in 2021.

According to the CDC, approximately 30% of people who use marijuana become addicted. The risk of developing an addiction is even higher for those who take up the habit during youth.

The CDC also reports marijuana use is especially risky for young people and developing brains. Teen cannabis use has been linked to higher rates of mental health issues, potential for addiction, difficulty problem-solving, memory and learning problems, lack of focus, and more. Cannabis use that begins at a young age can lead to permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association.

Finally, cannabis remains a federal Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, LSD, and MDMA. This takes precedence over Minnesota law. Proprietors will have no access to the banking system. That means all cannabis businesses will be cash operated. Taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for a huge new state agency called the Office of Cannabis Management. It will take $3 million to set up the agency. The bill spends $144 million in the next budget cycle and $188 million in the following budget cycle for operations and grants to people starting marijuana dispensaries.

As I said, I am a strong proponent of personal freedom, and I certainly understand the arguments behind legalization. But governing is complicated; we must consider an issue from all angles, and more importantly, consider the details and consequences of each specific bill. The fact is, the bill we passed to legalize cannabis was rushed into law before the state was ready for it, and the ramifications remain troubling.

Carla Nelson

Minnesota State Senator

Dodge and Olmsted Counties