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DIGGING DEEPER: Would recreational marijuana help or hurt Minnesota?

AUSTIN, Minn. (KTTC) -- On the national debate stage this week, vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris promised to decriminalize recreational marijuana, a hot button issue.

Here in Minnesota, Rep. Ryan Winkler, (DFL) Golden Valley, has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use after hearing peoples' concerns across the state on the subject.

"They think it has racially discriminatory effects. They want to have access for health," Winkler said. "People believe this is something that can be done well, safely and it's time for Minnesota to get with the program."

Many in law enforcement disagree.

"Why would we legalize something that we know is a problem for when people are driving?" asks Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson.

The Minnesota Sheriff's Association points to data out of Colorado proving societal issues related to marijuana increase with legalization.

On the other hand, Winkler says his research into other states shows legalization can be done safely.

"Yes there are concerns, but we can better address the concerns for cannabis with a legal, regulated marketplace than we can with a criminal justice prohibition model," Winkler said. "The fact of the matter is that the scare tactics don't work anymore."

The same cannabis plant that produces marijuana also produces legal cannabidiol (CBD) products. Those CBD products must contain less than point three percent THC, the chemical that produces the "high."

Making marijuana legal would help cannabis farmers.

"So that now we could go ahead and go above that point three and not have a problem," said Willow's Keep Farm owner Ted Galaty. "Right now, it's really hard with your varieties to make sure they stay below point three percent THC."

Some CBD store owners believe legalizing marijuana would provide an additional product to sell rather than hurt the CBD market.

"I don't think the THC would make any difference. Some people might need that extra actually," said Tom Cotter, owner of Superior Cananbis in Austin. "A lot of the time in cases of major [physical] pains, the THC is probably going to help better."

The Superior Cannabis owners think legalization would provide a boost to the local economy.

"We love the CBD market but we love that whole plant," said Jeff Brinkman, founder of Superior Cannabis. "To ignore the potential of that plant for medical patients and recreational use is just ignorant. I think it's a healthier alternative to alcohol."

Despite growing support for recreational marijuana, there are still detractors.

"Both sheriffs, police chiefs and [the] County Attorneys Association, all of us are at the point of saying legalizing marijuana in Minnesota is not the right thing to do," Torgerson said.

Yet the ones keeping it from becoming law are in the state capitol.

"They are absolutely dead set against making changes," Winkler said. "So frankly, if you want cannabis to be legalized in Minnesota, you have to replace Republican senators."

We reached out to several Republican state lawmakers, none replied to our requests for comment on this story.

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