Activists rally for marijuana legalization

Max Rust

One of the most controversial plants in the world was the center of attention this weekend in St. Paul.
About 200 activists gathered Saturday at the state Capitol to protest the illegal status of marijuana. The crowd also listened to speeches about marijuana issues and music by Los Marijuanos and Soul Farm. Later, the activists marched to Gov. Jesse Ventura’s mansion, demanding the re-legalization of marijuana.
The 13th annual Minnesota Tea Party, an event sponsored by the Minnesota Grassroots Party, supplied a venue for the sharing of ideas and information about cannabis; chants were yelled, signs were held and five people were arrested for the possession of marijuana.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 65.2 million Americans have tried marijuana and about 18 million have smoked it within the past year, making it the most widely used illegal drug in the United States.
Pete Neuman, who has been with the Grassroots Party for eight years, spoke to the audience about the negative effects the nation’s “drug war” has had on children and on citizens’ rights to protection from unlawful searches.
“Marijuana is bad for kids, but the drug war is worse,” Neuman said, explaining that the illegal status of drugs leads to easier access for children since drugs are sold on the street and not in controlled settings.
Neuman also criticized anti-drug public service announcements for taking a “forbidden fruit” approach to preventing children from using drugs. By glamorizing and thereby encouraging drug use, the announcements are counterproductive, he said.
A recent study by researchers at Penn State University found that many anti-drug commercials were actually found to increase the viewers’ interest in drugs.
During Neuman’s speech, two state troopers moving slowly through the crowd suddenly plucked an 18-year-old women from a group of people. She briefly resisted, but the troopers enforced their hold and took her away.
State Patrol Capt. Kevin Kittridge said the woman was arrested for possessing marijuana, a crime punishable by a fine of about $300 in Ramsey County.
However, Clay Swanson, who was sitting with the woman, said she wasn’t smoking and didn’t have any marijuana on her person.
“They just came up and picked her up. We weren’t smoking anything,” Swanson said.

Marijuana watchdogs
According to the state Department of Corrections, inmates incarcerated for drug offenses constitute 15 percent of the 5,766 inmates in Minnesota prisons.
These inmates total the third highest percentage of the prison population — higher than numbers of prisoners incarcerated for assault, robbery and burglary. Only criminal sexual conduct and homicide tally higher numbers in the state’s prisons.
In 1998, the University Police Department issued 105 drug citations, up from 72 citations in 1997. Most of those citations were for possession of marijuana.
Jeanette McDougal, a long-time drug opponent who said she has been monitoring the drug culture for more than 10 years, supports these arrests.
A recovering drug addict, McDougal challenges any assertion that laws on marijuana are unjust or that industrial hemp should be legal.
McDougal, who has never tried marijuana, said that although her crusade borders on self-righteousness, it is her passion for children that drives her to inform authorities and the news media of pro-marijuana activism and events like Saturday’s tea party.
“I keep an eye on them every year,” McDougal said of the Grassroots Party.
But a newly formed Minnesota group — including several University students — will be keeping their eyes on marijuana-related legislation.
On Friday, a new state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was officially registered with the state.
David Lach Collins, executive state director of NORML Minnesota, said the old chapter was only selling merchandise, and the new chapter will focus on lobbying efforts. The group will argue for legislation legalizing medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp.
“We’re organizing the people to get in there and get behind these bills,” Collins said. “There’s never been the public support that there is now.”
Collins said more than 400 people have signed up as members of NORML Minnesota, many of whom signed on at the tea party.
Michael Donlin, a University senior majoring in philosophy, is a member of NORML Minnesota.
“I think we need marijuana for medical use, and we also need it for industrial use and for recreational use for those who want to use it,” he said. Donlin said he wants to also keep people abreast of marijuana laws and legislation.
“Today helped,” he said.
Cannabis in Minnesota
Donlin’s interest in industrial hemp is shared by many state legislators, including Ventura. The governor is petitioning the federal government to allow Minnesota to set up an experimental hemp cultivation program through the University.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is working on a set of rules for individual farmers to grow hemp. When the rules are released for public comment sometime this fall, Ventura will be discussing Minnesota’s situation with the DEA, said John Wodele, a spokesman for Ventura.
The Twin Cities area was not the only place for marijuana legalization action this weekend.
In Boston, 40,000 people attended a pro-marijuana rally aimed at decriminalizing the possession of the drug.
Decriminalization means that those arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana — less than 1.5 ounces in Minnesota — receive a fine of up to $400 instead of serving jail time.
Minnesota is one of 10 states that has decriminalized marijuana. The others are Nebraska, California, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.

Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]