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State Fair Poll Permissive on Pot; Not on Guns

Friday, September 15, 2017  
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From Minnesota Lawyer

Minnesota State Fair visitors opting for a side of politics and legal issues with their corndogs and Tilt-A-Whirl spins supported legalizing recreational marijuana and opposed the carrying of firearms without a permit in public in an unscientific survey.

Fairgoers participating in the annual Minnesota House of Representatives State Fair Poll also favored increasing the gasoline tax for highway and bridge needs and raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Poll participants were nearly evenly split on whether to toughen penalties for obstructing traffic on a highway or at an airport, a tactic protesters have used in response to the Philando Castile shooting and other controversies.

The poll, an informal, unscientific survey on issues raised in past legislative sessions or that may arise next year, is conducted by the House Public Information Services Office.

On the question of recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older, 50.6 percent supported legalization with 39.7 percent opposed out of 7,122 votes cast. Lawmakers in close to two dozen states this year weighed legalizing recreational marijuana, the House information office noted, while eight states have legalized it.

Eric Ostermeier, author of the Smart Politics blog and a research associate at the Humphrey School’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, said the marijuana question, like many in the poll, lacked the “question balance” of a scientific survey.

A more balanced approach on regarding marijuana use, Ostermeier said, would have been to ask about legalization while also adding to the poll question whether it should it remain prohibited as it is under current state law.

Still, the roughly 50-40 split on the marijuana question is in line with past scientific polling, said Ostermeier, who has a law degree but has not practiced law.

“This probably is within the ballpark of what we might see in a scientific survey in the state,” Ostermeier said. “It strikes me as within the realm of conceivable accuracy.”

Regarding permitless or constitutional carrying of firearms, or allowing residents to carry handguns, openly or concealed, without a permit, slightly more than 86 percent of poll participants were opposed.

“Eighty-six percent is a pretty strong statement that people don’t want to loosen the restrictions there about concealed carry,” said Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, who works as a public health attorney.

Two-thirds of fairgoers who took the poll believe the statewide minimum age to buy tobacco products should be raised from 18 to 21, a change that Edina and St. Louis Park already have made.

Freiberg, a former city council member, said he believed the state would have the resources to enforce the higher age, while “a lot of states don’t have such robust enforcement.”

“We think that with having local licensing required in every county and a lot of cities, we have a pretty strong platform in place,” Freiberg said.

Raising the penalty for intentionally obstructing traffic on a highway or at an airport drew opposition from 46.3 percent of poll participants and support from 44.4 percent. A House bill that advanced in this year’s session proposed increasing the offense from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor.

Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said he had mixed thoughts about the traffic obstruction issue.

Freedom of speech and the right of peaceable assembly are vital to a democracy, Daly said. Order also is important, with highways and airports essential to travel, which he said the Supreme Court has recognized as an essential right.

“How to balance liberty and order?” Daly asked. “My own thoughts are we should not make it a gross misdemeanor to intentionally block traffic on a highway or at an airport. But I understand the dangers and the frustrations of those who are travelers. On balance I think free speech should triumph.”

In other poll results:

Close to 75 percent said handheld cell phone use should be illegal while driving except in emergencies.

Nearly 61 percent favored raising the state’s 28.5 cents a gallon gasoline tax by at least 10 cents to pay for bridge and highway needs.

Nearly 96 percent said telecommunications companies should be required to obtain customer consent before selling or sharing web browsing history or other private data.

Almost 58 percent said local governments should not be prohibited from adopting ordinancees regulating minimum wage, paid or unpaid leave or other work benefits.

Attorney Thomas Fafinski, co-founder of Virtus Law in Minneapolis, said a lack of uniformity in local ordinances would create a lot of confusion for business owners, especially those who have operations in multiple cities.

“Wherever there’s confusion it generates a lot of legal work, but it’s not so good for the business climate to manage these different scenarios,” Fafinski said.

David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline University, said he sees consensus on several issues among poll participants that he does not see in the polarized political climate at the state Capitol.

“It’s almost as if the two major parties stand in way of being able to find consensus that we’re seeing at the state fair,” Schultz said. “The parties have become so polarized, they have become really ‘litmus tested’ in the sense that if you believe one thing you’ve got to believe a whole bunch of other things. It’s making it difficult for individual members to cross and vote on consensus issues where they actually should exist.”

That disconnect could reshape the political landscape over time, Schultz said.

“That’s the other thing I’m catching in this survey is the basis of a new political consensus that will emerge out the polarization,” Schultz said. Whether that new consensus is two years away, five years away or a decade away, I can’t tell yet.”

Steven Schier, political science professor at Carleton College in Northfield, said poll participants appeared to be more liberal leaning on a variety of issues.

“If the statewide electorate resembled this group of respondents it’d probably be good news for the DFL,” Schier said. “It’s more liberal than you will find in the Republican caucus in the state Capitol. … It seems to me to be an activist group of respondents.”

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