A few blocks from the Minnesota State Fair’s Snelling Avenue entrance, volunteer Michael Ford stands with his hands in his jean pockets. He wears a sharp pair of black-framed glasses and a neatly groomed beard. The back of his shirt reads “PASS JOINTS, NOT JUDGMENT.”
It’s a bit of a hike, he says, but it never fails. Every time the fair comes around, people go out of their way to see their row of tents, all bearing signs and merch with a single message: Marijuana should be legal. They were a week into the fair, and so far, about a thousand people had stopped to chat.
“I love to see the support,” he says. “It’s a big year.”
For several years, the legal marijuana movement has been setting up shop within sight of the fair, sandwiched between political candidates, churches handing out brochures, and mini donut trucks hoping to make a quick buck off people who don’t want to pay State Fair prices. This ragtag stretch of tents and yard signs is its own event, always on the outskirts of the main attraction.
“We could possibly get in with the political party, if we made a big deal about it,” volunteer Marty Super says. He’s talking about the Legal Marijuana Now party, which, true to its name, has a very focused and specific platform.
But in the end, it’s not worth it yet to spend the money on securing the booth. They’re still waiting on that moment when the legalization movement reaches critical mass, and they have a presence on par with, say, the libertarian booth. Besides, Super’s not sure they have the people power to staff it all day. Most of legal marijuana’s staunchest proponents, he says, are themselves old, in pain, or sick, relying on cannabis for pain relief or nausea.
Super got into the legalization movement about eight years ago, when his wife of 39 years, Karen Super, died of brain cancer. She depended on pot just to feel normal.
“It was such a big help compared to what the doctors gave her to control her nausea,” he says. None of those meds could do what weed did to settle her roiling stomach.
Congressional candidate Susan Pendergast Sindt tends the booth next door: a rainbow of tie-dyed apparel and a giant flag that reads “DON’T TREAD ON WEED.” She’s wearing a tank top and shorts and holding a tie-dye wrap covered in peace signs. She’s running to legalize weed, but mostly she’s just trying to show up on the ballot. When she ran in 2016, 27,000 people cast their ballots for her.
“I don’t know 27,000 people,” she says. “They were voting for legal marijuana.”
The fact is, she says, possession arrests are effectively a cudgel for systemic racism. In 2013, a study by the American Civil Liberties Union determined that black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though they use the drug at similar rates. She says if she can beat out the Republican candidates this year, she’ll consider it a win.
A few passersby stop and smile at some of the merch—cannabis leaf-shaped pins and buttons emblazoned with the Minnesota Norml logo. Since they started, their camp of volunteers has swollen from a single tent to a stretch four or five long. Their reception hasn’t always been this warm. “Why on Earth would you want to legalize that?” strangers would demand. “Think of the kids.”
That hasn’t totally gone away. Super says one of the folks handing out church pamphlets stopped by the other day to tell them they were all going to hell. But this year feels different. People are friendlier, even excited. For the first time in their years long struggle, the legalization crowd is starting to feel like they have momentum.
There’s a reason for that, Super says: Colorado.
“Since Colorado legalized [marijuana], it’s changed a lot,” he says. “Everyone said, ‘Well, the sky is going to fall.’ And it didn’t.”
If you ask Super, it’s all just a matter of time, now. He fully believes weed is going to be legal—that the question is not “if,” but whether it will be in two years, or five. Now they just have to keep showing up, keep getting candidates onto the ballot, and ride the wave.
“It’s dope,” Ford says with a smile. “It’s pretty dope.”