A handful of Democratic lawmakers in Minnesota want to legalize marijuana for personal use, bringing an issue popular with progressive voters nationwide to a state where currently the law treats even alcohol with some suspicion.

"This is a conversation starter," Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said Thursday, acknowledging the uphill battle for legalization.

Rep. Tina Liebling, who joined Metsa and Reps. Jon Applebaum and Alice Hausman at a packed news conference, said prohibition is "costly, harmful and antiquated."

In 2015, Liebling said, law enforcement made 6,829 arrests for marijuana, which was 39 percent of all drug arrests.

They said prohibition is not working in preventing marijuana use while at the same time wasting police resources, causing users to interact with the black market and preventing Minnesotans who get arrested and jailed from finding housing and work later in life.

For now, prohibition is here to stay. The DFL legislators said they were in discussions with GOP lawmakers, but as of yet no Republicans have signed on.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a retired police officer who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, is adamantly opposed to legalization and has been for years.

As is DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who said Wednesday he is against the idea: "We've got enough drugs, an epidemic of drugs that's floating through our society right now. And law enforcement's got to deal with all the consequences of it. Whether it's more or less harmful than alcohol, the fact is, alcohol causes a great many terrible tragedies around the state, on the roads and the like."

Nationally, advocates for legalization have some momentum. Voters in four states approved marijuana for personal use in the November election, including California. About one out of five Americans now live in a state where marijuana is legal, including the entire West Coast and a new foothold in the East via Massachusetts.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana for specific health conditions.


Wisconsin legislation

In Wisconsin, two Democratic state lawmakers have reintroduced legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, are sponsoring two proposals aimed at legalizing cannabis for medical use. The first, the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act, would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The second bill would authorize a statewide advisory referendum allowing citizens to weigh in on whether they support medical legalization.

Similar legislation introduced during the last legislative session never received a hearing in the House or Senate.

Gov. Scott Walker said last month he doesn't support legalizing medical marijuana.


Wisconsin Public Radio contributed to this report.