A look at the two new political parties coming to a ballot near you
By: Emma Chekroun and Kathryn Merta
Minnesotans old enough to vote and diligent enough to research candidates ahead of this past election might have noticed there were two new parties with some eyebrow-raising names: “Legal Marijuana Now” and “Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis.”
Not only will these parties appear on the ballot again in the next Minnesota election, but they now enjoy verified major party status and automatic access to the ballot.
This all comes after gaining around five percent of the vote in statewide races for attorney general and state auditor, and at least one vote in all 87 Minnesota counties, MPR News reported.
With the acceptance of these new parties, the lofty wall barricading the goal of legalized marijuana just got knocked down a few pegs.
Because there is no Initiative or Referendum in Minnesota, statewide ballot questions are not authorized unless they are constitutional amendments, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State.
This means citizens in Minnesota are unable to apply a statute passed by the legislature on a ballot for the public to vote on, as defined by Ballotpedia, which boils down to an immense challenge to rally for the legalization of marijuana.
But what would it look like to have a representative whose party primarily focuses on legalizing marijuana?
Voting Third Party
For voters, the choice to vote for a third-party rather than the DFL or GOP is a risky choice, and legalization of marijuana may not outweigh that risk.
"The only scenarios that I would vote third party are if there's a really strong candidate...or if I didn't feel the candidate in my party was morally right for the job," said Harry Miles, a freshman at St. Thomas.
For Miles, the candidate he deemed morally unfit this past election was the DFL’s candidate for Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is accused of physically abusing his ex-girlfriend. As a voter in today’s climate, this student’s caution is commendable given the move for greater transparency that has facilitated a torrent of assault allegations at all levels of governance.
However, Ellison still won the election this November in what was a tight race, winning only 49 percent of the vote. His opponent, Republican Doug Warlow, emerged with 45.1 percent of the votes.
Although this student’s vote may seem insignificant compared to the vote count of the two main parties, perhaps a shift is imminent.
“If at least one third party member member gets elected to office, it could influence the votes of major party members and could potentially lead to more third party candidates on ballots and in office,” said Miles.
With all the “firsts” voted into office this election year, voters like Miles believe they could usher a whole new set of “firsts” … well, thirds.
So with that in mind, is the goal to be in office?
For Dennis Schuller, Legal Marijuana Now’s 2018 candidate for the United States Senate race against incumbent Amy Klobuchar, not really.
“It’s not even really about cannabis,” said Schuller, who has been involved with Legal Marijuana Now since 2016. “It’s really about freeing people to be able to be independent and accountable to themselves and live a good life.”
Schuller feels this is a way to bring the issue to the forefront of people’s minds.
“All these people [candidates] should be making sense,” he said when discussing why he choose to run for an independent party and not the DFL.
Schuller adds that the democratic party has had to evolve and go beyond focusing on what he feels represents his best interests.
At this point, he feels that the goal of Legal Marijuana Now really is more about awareness. One of the key differences Schuller sees between the two parties is Legal Marijuana Now’s goal to really “just get it on the ballot.”
He describes the party as one “birthed out of necessity” rather than defined politics, and feels Legal Marijuana Now is a party that would prefer to ignore the government, but has no means around it when it comes to legalizing marijuana due to the state’s absence of a referendum process.
“How do you engage people with this and get it out there?” Schuller asks, when referring to the challenges of legally discussing an illegal topic.
But he is optimistic and, while politics do not appear to be his main interest and goes so far as to describe himself as “anti-politics,” Schuller believes there is room for more single issue parties to emerge.
Chris Wright, who ran as governor for the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis party and has been involved with the party since the late 80s, echoes much of this mentality.
“Once we repeal the marijuana prohibition, I'm sure the Grassroots party will change its name to just Grassroots,” said Wright.
To Wright, this is a “freedom issue” focused on releasing people from prison and making neighborhoods safe — the goals of most politicians.
One of the main differences Wright highlights between the two parties is the aspect of the marijuana issues each group focuses on.
“All we are talking about now, is not whether we are going to legalize marijuana, but how we are going to legalize it,” he said. “That’s the big question.”
Differences Between the Groups
The two parties split when it comes to Grassroots hyper-focus on both the war on drugs and Article 13 of the Minnesota Constitution.
In that respect, Legal Marijuana is more of a spinoff from Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis than a separate entity. They even aid one another with getting signatures.
“It was an experiment in democracy,” Wright said.
He adds the parties started Legal Marijuana Now as a test to see if it would pull more voters and give opportunities for voters who are not as focused on repealing the drug war.
Where Schuller is uninterested in politics, Wright is focused on what he deems are the pitfalls of modern government — namely the impact making marijuana illegal has on crime and improperly upholding the state constitution.
Wright sees the war on drugs in extreme terms, with its final mutation being a complete police state.
The conversation borders on a nightmarish reverie where illegal marijuana is the primary cause of a “trigger-happy” police force and government that has only gotten worse since the presidency of Richard Nixon.
As for the constitution, Wright feels the laws against marijuana at the moment are at odds with Minnesota’s Article 13 Sec. 7which simply states:
No license required to peddle. Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor.
The inability to grow marijuana is at odds with the state’s implied freedom to distribution, but the law excludes illegal products and can at best be dodgy with its protection.
In 2005, the state supreme court decided in State of Minnesota v. Hartmann that the article did not guarantee farmers the right to sell products otherwise prohibited by law and only protected products a person could obtain a sales license for. Put simply, farmers can only sell legal products without a license.
This all means that the protection of Article 13 can’t really exist until marijuana is legalized.
The intense issues of freedom and a policed state seemed a sharp contrast to the candidate's red Hawaiian shirt — complete with black hibiscus flowers and several black Chinese dragons.