Winona Daily News, March 28
Marijuana legalization? Maybe later
Sounds like the proposal to legalize marijuana in Minnesota has pretty much gone up in smoke this year.
The state decided to have a conversation, with Gov. Mark Dayton listening to both law enforcement worried about crime and misuse and advocates who argued it's provided necessary relief where nothing else could. But in the end the studies weren't there and neither were the political supporters, and Dayton this week announced, in no uncertain terms, that there was no chance of medical marijuana passing this year.
That's the political reality — at least for now.
We don't doubt the practical benefit of using marijuana for pain relief, and we get the argument that it can sure be a lot less dangerous than high-grade prescription narcotics and other substances. But there are lots of questions to be answered on multiple levels, from public safety to public health, all of them coming amid a swiftly changing landscape for the drug, with two states legalizing it and President Barack Obama recently declaring that he doesn't think it's any more harmful than alcohol.
There aren't a ton of hard studies on legalizing medical marijuana — or any kind of marijuana use — at a state level. The studies are coming, but they're not here yet. And so the debate becomes one of weighing which personal anecdote or societal estimation is more poignant. That's not a bad debate to have. But it's not one that should strongly influence public policy.
Thanks to the focus of Minnesota state leaders and politicians, there's quite a bit going well these days, from the budget surplus to the schools getting paid back to the most recent package of tax cuts for businesses and homeowners alike. And with the economy improving and all kinds of economic development opportunities on the state's radar, it seems like there's quite a bit left to go well, too.
So let's keep the focus there and not let it stray. Minnesota doesn't necessarily need to be a leader on the medical marijuana front. The state should be content to wait on this debate — after all, with the direction the drug's landscape is shifting in, a very near future could hold the possibility of approving medical marijuana in a way all stakeholders support, without losing focus or creating unnecessary political rifts.
St. Cloud Times, March 31
Search for water source teaches many lessons
In a state with the motto "Land of 10,000 Lakes" and in a city named Cold Spring, many folks might believe finding high-quality water sources would be no big deal.
Unfortunately, it is. Witness the long-running challenge the city, Cold Spring Brewery and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are trying to solve.
The three entities have spent the past several years trying to find a new water source for the growing brewery after increased use of its current source — an underground aquifer — is depleting a nearby trout stream.
As a recent MPR News report noted, there's nothing to indicate finding another source will happen soon, that a solution will be affordable to the brewery and the city, or that all the effects of depleting the aquifer are known at this time.
While it's good that all three groups continue to work together, this situation offers Central Minnesotans a great example about the importance of managing groundwater supplies statewide. It also provides a teachable moment about those efforts and how residents can influence them.
Driven in part by situations like Cold Spring's and other places across the state where groundwater supplies have become an issue, legislators have mandated the DNR to oversee this valuable resource. Just last session, lawmakers agreed to spend $7 million to support enhanced water management programs, and $3 million for statewide mapping and establishment of groundwater management areas.
Those funds have helped the DNR create its Draft Groundwater Strategic Plan, available online at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/gwmp/index.html.
If you don't have Web access, you can request a copy by calling the DNR at 651-296-6157 or 1-888-MINNDNR. You also can write for a report to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4040.
As the report and website stress, the DNR wants input from Minnesotans about this plan, which must meet the agency's overall mission statement of "working with citizens to conserve and manage the state's natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life."
Just ask the city of Cold Spring, Cold Spring Brewery and the DNR — that can be a delicate balance to strike.
The Free Press of Mankato, April 1
Lawmakers don't need DWI
Many Minnesota residents may have been perplexed when they learned that state lawmakers have immunity from certain arrests while they are in session.
The state Constitution gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during session in all cases except for felonies, treason and breach of the peace.
What many call a "get out of jail free" card might seem outrageous to many, but the exemption is not without merit. The provision is intended to prevent lawmakers from being arrested on trumped-up charges in order to keep them from attending key votes.
That kind of mischief might seem impossible in today's society. But don't forget what happened in neighboring Wisconsin in 2011. Democrat lawmakers fled the state in an effort to prevent legislators from reaching a quorum and passing a bill put forth by Gov. Scott Walker, which would cripple the collective bargaining rights of public unions. Walker, a Republican, threatened to send out state troopers and the National Guard to track the lawmakers down.
While that drama eventually worked itself out, it shows that nothing is impossible when it comes to tense political debates, particularly in this time of divisive politics.
That being said, one aspect of the immunity — potential freedom for lawmakers from being arrested for drunk driving during the session — should be done away with.
Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato has sponsored a bill that would change the definition of "breach of the peace," to include drunk driving.
But the common-sense proposal had a tough time in the Senate judiciary panel, where Sheran couldn't rally others to support it.
Some lawmakers opposed it — sidestepping the core question of whether lawmakers should have the right to get away with drunk driving — by saying no one has proven the provision has been misused by lawmakers.
Another opponent said he didn't think police would let a lawmaker off if they did stop them for drunk driving during the session. Well, maybe not, but then why leave the protection for lawmakers in the law?
The setback in the Senate dims hopes for Sheran's bill this session, even though House Speaker Paul Thissen has supported the idea in his chamber.
If there's no way to move the bill this year, it should be brought back in the next session.
Lawmakers opposing the change do nothing but further undermine the public's confidence in them.