Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said shortly after Tuesday night's elections that Gov. Tim Walz assured him that "one of the first items" on Walz's second-term agenda is legalization of marijuana, now that DFLers have full control of the Legislature.
Ventura made the disclosure Wednesday on a podcast he cohosts with his son, Tyrel, as they touched on topics connected to election results in Minnesota and across the country.
"I will let it out tonight, what the heck," said Ventura, who was elected governor in 1999 under the Reform Party banner and served one four-year-term. "The governor reassured me that one of the first items that will be passed in Minnesota — get ready — cannabis is going to have its prohibition lifted. Well, that's the news I got today."
Ventura told the Star Tribune on Friday that because he had endorsed Walz's re-election, the governor called him Wednesday to thank him.
"That was one of many reasons why I endorsed Gov. Walz," Ventura said. "He would legalize cannabis, whereas Republicans are the ones stopping it."
Tuesday's election results narrowly shifted control of the state Senate from the Republicans to the DFL, which also retained its majority in the House. This gives the DFL governor a more friendly legislative path to legalize marijuana, a path that hasn't existed since he took office in 2019.
The DFL-controlled House, with some Republican votes, passed a bill in 2021 to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. However, the bill never received a vote in the GOP-led Senate.
"We are lagging far behind the rest of the country," Ventura said Friday.
Republican legislators have cited the potential for more people driving under the influence and concerns that increased marijuana use could lead to failed drug tests in employment settings and impairment in the workplace.
Walz confirmed his pledge to Ventura during an interview Friday morning on WCCO Radio. Legalizing marijuana, he said, "just makes sense. Prohibition didn't work; we get better regulation; we know what's in these things; it's adult use."
Walz publicly supported legalization for the first time shortly after his election in 2018. "There's a racial justice element to it," he said, referring to the disproportionately higher numbers of minority group members arrested and caught up in the criminal justice system for marijuana possession.
And as recently as April, Walz posted on Twitter, "It's time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota."
Kurtis Hanna, co-founder and lobbyist for the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said Walz prioritizing cannabis legalization is a "big-time" boost for his group's cause.
"In a private conversation, having Walz tell Jesse Ventura that this is one of his top priorities, that is huge for us," Hanna said.
He acknowledged that legalization has fallen pretty firmly along party lines in Minnesota. But he said he's hopeful that "when this topic can actually get flushed out and there is a robust conversation, we'll see how many Republicans come on board, but I think it will be a good chunk."
Ventura, a longtime advocate of marijuana legalization, also told the Star Tribune that Walz "asked me if I would be at the signing ceremony if the legislation passes. ... Maybe I will show up in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt to celebrate."
Walz said on WCCO that having Ventura at a bill-signing ceremony "would be important to recognize him."
Voters on Tuesday approved recreational marijuana use in Maryland and Missouri, signaling support gradually growing for legalization even in politically conservative parts of the country. Voters in North Dakota, South Dakota and Arkansas on Tuesday rejected legalization.
Twenty-one states have now approved recreational use of marijuana.
Minnesota has been steadily liberalizing its laws pertaining to cannabis for the past several years.
On July 1, a state law took effect allowing Minnesotans age 21 and older to buy certain edibles and beverages containing small amounts of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high associated with the drug.
Previously, less intoxicating hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products were already legal in the state.
Minnesota's medical cannabis program was born in 2015. Participants include people seeking relief from numerous ailments, including chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.