This story points out the incredible money behind the marijuana legalization effort, albeit for medical purposes. The Marijuana Policy Project's goal is legalization of marijuana across the board. In my view, they're using the medical marijuana issue as the proverbial camel's nose under the tent.
The chief sponsors of the bill issued a late-night news release promising a constitutional showdown.
"For the governor to veto this legislation, even after the House narrowed it so much that thousands of suffering patients would have been without protection, is just unbelievably cruel," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing.
The issue is by no means assured of landing on next year's ballot; the Legislature has often been reluctant to put questions directly to voters. And once they get there, the campaign, which includes assuring a majority cast ballots in the affirmative (a non-vote counts as a "no") can be expensive.
"The price of running a statewide campaign has just skyrocketed," said Charlie Poster, the former spokesman of Vote YES Minnesota, which supported the Legacy Amendment.
But the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group pushing the legislation, appears to have the money to launch a serious campaign. Since 2005, the group has spent nearly $900,000 lobbying the Minnesota Legislature with money raised at events like its recent fourth annual Playboy Mansion fundraiser.
"While nobody's drawn up a budget yet, our basic approach is we would spend what's needed," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the group.
Proponents are already trying to position a ballot initiative as a boon for more liberal candidates.
"There's definitely a second layer any time you think about a constitutional amendment or a ballot question," said Mike Zipko, a political consultant at St. Paul's Goff & Howard. "You could see how someone from a progressive point of view (could use the issue) to push voter turnout even a couple of points." ...If will be interesting to hear what proponents of a marijuana amendment, many of whom have argued against a marriage amendment, will say when confronted with a marriage amendment. Will they continue to argue that we shouldn't be cluttering up the constitution with all these various issues? That the legislature has more important things it should be spending its time on. And will a majority of legislators want to enshrine in our state constitution a right to use an drug that is otherwise illegal?
That sets up an interesting scenario. In 2004, a number of state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage were credited with helping President George W. Bush win re-election by drawing social conservatives to the polls. Could medical marijuana be the left's version, drawing voters who aren't typically motivated to vote?
Zipko said it might, pointing to Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial victory in 1998. Many voters turned out to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish, added a vote for Ventura and left the polls, Zipko said.
"Everybody's looking for any kind of edge to get people to come out because these elections are getting closer and closer," Zipko said.
Yet when California voters approved the nation's first statewide medical marijuana law in 1996, a presidential election year, fewer people turned out than in 1992, the previous presidential election. And when Oregon voters followed suit in 1998, a gubernatorial election year, voter turnout there was also down over the previous governor's race.
Larry Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, is among the skeptics. He said the Legacy Amendment was passed through a broad coalition and posed a question that was fundamental to the Minnesota way of life.
"My sense is (medical marijuana doesn't have) the kind of intense commitment and breadth of commitment that you see with the Legacy Amendment," Jacobs said.
If marijuana is worthy of constitutional protections then certainly the institution of marriage is.