Marijuana and the criminal justice-prison industrial complex

America has fought a losing war and it is time to end it. No, this is not a reference to Afghanistan or the War on Terrorism. It is to the four decade long war on drugs that has failed miserably. It is time to shift away from a drug policy that criminalizes its use to one which treats it as a public health problem. This should be the policy regardless of whether Minnesota endorses medical marijuana. Richard Nixon launched the “war on drugs” with his presidency in 1968 and coined the phrase in a 1971 speech. Since Nixon the war on drugs has been a mainstay of Republican if not bipartisan politics. The 1974 New York Rockefeller Drug laws penalized individuals with sentences of 15, 25 years, or even life in prison for possession of small amount of marijuana. Increased mandatory minimum sentences for crimes were ratcheted up for drugs and the move toward “three strikes and you are out laws” in the 1990s were adopted in part as a result of the drive to prosecute drug crimes. All told in the last decade the federal government has annually spent $20-25 billion on drug enforcement with states kicking in an additional $10-15 billion if not more. What has this money purchased?


Far right and left's common interest around agriculture

The far right and far left tend to agree on more issues than folks realize, but have very different ideas for how to resolve those issues. The recently enacted federal farm bill is one example.


Obama's not so bold plan for transportation

President Obama came to St Paul to propose an aggressive new investment in transportation infrastructure, $300B over 4 years. It was a good show that messed up traffic throughout the city, which was only fitting. That increase of $75B per year comes on top of the current $48B per year, or a 150% increase. It’s needed, and as we’ve noted before investments in infrastructure have a great payback for the economy.


President Obama visits St. Paul

President Barack Obama, in St. Paul on Wednesday, reiterated his vow he made earlier in his State of the Union address in January that he will take action when needed if Congress won’t.


President Obama in St. Paul - video

President Obama speaks at St. Paul's renovated Union Depot about the importance of funding transportation.


Farm Bill brings opportunity, loss to University of Minnesota's agricultural faculty, staff and students

Junior Biology major Laura Billstein works as a lab assistant moving plants to prepare for a botany class in Plant Growth Facilities on St. Paul campus, Friday. (Photo by Lisa Persson)

The University of Minnesota’s ties to the agriculture industry and communities in greater Minnesota mean the much-delayed passage of the 2014 Farm Bill hits home for students and employees alike.


Climate hubs: A step forward

It’s a big week in the agriculture world. Just days before Obama signed the new Farm Bill into law, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the locations of seven regional hubs for climate change adaptation and mitigation. These hubs will attempt to address the risks that farmers increasingly face due to climate change—including fires, pests, droughts and floods—by disseminating research on ways landowners can adapt to and adjust management strategies to build resilience.


We deserve more than this bad Farm Bill

Was it just exhaustion from two-plus years of negotiations that finally produced the Farm Bill that is expected to be signed by the President this week? Or, was it the sense that “it could have been a lot worse” when compared with a mean-spirited, destructive Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives last year. For whatever reason, there is a sense that a deeply flawed Farm Bill—the terms of which were dictated largely by austerity fanatics from the start—is the best we’ll get under the current political environment.


MinnesotaCare unites us in a time of divisiveness

Last month, I had the privilege to be a part of something special in Minnesota when a whole lot of groups that aren’t usually all on the same page came together to support MinnesotaCare.


Minnesota won't get hit by food-aid cuts in farm deal

Food-assistance funding in the bill won’t have an impact here because Minnesota officials didn't use a heating-assistance loophole to get more food stamps for hungry residents as other states did. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

From where Byron Laher sits, the economy and the bitter-cold will have a more profound effect on Minnesotans needing food than the reported federal farm bill deal in Washington.

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