We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd 2020 elections. We recently talked with Dennis Barsness from the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party running for MN Senate in District 5 against Rita Albrecht (DFL) and incumbent Senator Justin Eichorn (R). We have requested an interview with Senator Eichorn and have not heard back yet.
MinnPost has reported on how marijuana parties are affecting state races. See our conversation with Peter Callaghan here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Dennis Barsness. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Dennis Barsness is the candidate for Senate District 5 for the Grassroots- Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota, and he joins us now. Senate District 5 is a big district in our region. It covers towns like Grand Rapids and Bemidji, the Leech Lake Tribal Nation, and Itasca, Cass, and Beltrami County. Dennis, thanks so much for talking with us today.
(Dennis Barsness) A: Thank you for having me on.
Q: Tell us why you are running for Senate.
A: Well, part of the reason...there's various reasons that all compile in. One reason is I was asked to run. Another part of the reasoning is, I'm not a big two-party kind of person. And I really pushed towards...we need a third party. We need third party politics to even the playing field for what the two-party system has going on. And in all actuality, in Minnesota here, there's been people that have worked very hard with the Grassroots Party to become a major party in the system, in Minnesota at least. And, the reason I can be here is because they've done that work, and I'm just trying to get the message out there to people as well, that we need to continue supporting these third parties. The two party system...it just plays a lot of dirty politics and voter shaming. And that voter shaming, it helps to propagate that two party system. People keep crying, "We need to change. We need to change." And the only real way we're going to get that is if we have third parties, that we can have candidates that can actually represent the people rather than the parties.
Q: When you say you were asked to run, you were asked by the party to run?
A: I was asked by various individuals if I would run.
Q: Tell us more of what you mean by voter shaming, by the Democratic and Republican parties.
A: I hear a lot of...voting for third party, you're just throwing your vote away. The Democrat party likes to tell the other third parties, 'no, this isn't the year.' If we all get behind the Democrat party, and back them, and then get them in power, that they would help the third parties out, and that's just not true. There's a lot of things that go on that just convince people that they have to vote for a Democrat or Republican candidate. And it really leaves a big gap. There's a lot of good people that would run for third parties. They don't want to be tied into that Democrat or Republican party. They want to be independent.
Q: We are asking all of the candidates we're talking to in our Vote 2020 project: What are their two biggest priorities for the district that they're running in. What is it for you?
A: Well, for me, it's too hard to narrow it down to two. In this area, there's high rates of unemployment, property taxes that are going through the roof. So there's gotta be things done to bring in the local, smaller governments to get their stuff in check. Health issues are always a problem, with the health insurance, the whole pandemic stuff that's going on nowadays, and the race war that's been reignited, and the rioting. Like I said, there's just too much to narrow it down to two.
Q: Let's talk about the pandemic a little bit. How do you think the state of Minnesota has handled it?
A: Fairly poorly. I mean, they've done some good things. I'm kind of concerned as to the power trip that seems good, [that's] been going on with the executive orders and stuff with the governor. I think that there could have been things done right away. And, a big thing is to educate people. There's too many orders that have been laid onto the people with no education at all, as to why. And there's a lot of misconception going on as to the severity of the virus and different things. There's really been a lack of just honesty as to the whole aspect of the seriousness of the pandemic, the seriousness of the virus. It's got a low mortality , in one aspect, but it's still a very dangerous thing. I work in the healthcare field. So, I understand that the severity of the death that it can cause. I've actually had an experience. Somebody that is familiar to me actually passed away from COVID. But I think a lot of it has to do with this: they kept too much in the dark to begin with.
Q: We're talking with Dennis Barsness today. He is running for Senate District 5 on the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota. Let's talk about your plans, why you think marijuana should be legal, and what you think that could bring to the state of Minnesota?
A: Well, one thing that the marijuana...other States that have been working with it, and they think there's a lot of information that can be gained from Colorado, California, Washington, and other places, Michigan, that have been legalizing [marijuana]. I think it's time that the state gets on board. A big thing is revenue. But I wanted to also be sure that it doesn't just change hands of who these corrupt dealers are. We already have illegal marijuana being sold in the state. And if it just changes hands, if the state becomes the marijuana dealer, then that's not beneficial for anybody. But in all actuality, there's a lot of money being made by it being criminalized. And we can take that money that's going to these private prisons...it's all part of a high school to prison system that's going on, especially with the minority people. But again, we can take money, we can put it into education. We can put money into helping people that have problems with it. It's not a lot different than alcohol, and alcohol has been legal for years and years and years now. And again, we can benefit by a big revenue increase if it's properly managed.
Q: What about when it comes to medical marijuana? I know that, for instance, veterans, with their healthcare, are not able to get prescriptions for medical marijuana, where it may be really beneficial to their healing.
A: Right. Minnesota, again, I believe, is...they're falling behind other states, by allowing legislators that have no knowledge to be making the decisions on the medical marijuana. They ought to be taking information that's gathered by healthcare physicians and various avenues. And like I said, there's other states that we can really gather a lot of information from, but let's put the right people into the place of making these decisions. To me, the whole medical aspect of it should be embraced. It's for the benefit of a lot of people, there's money to be made at it, where these big drug companies are the ones that are fighting against it because there's manmade drugs that'll be getting pushed aside, in a sense, for the CBDs and the medical marijuana, but I think it needs to be properly maintained.
Q: One of the big issues in Senate District 5, is the Line 3 pipeline. What's your take on that?
A: Well, on the current Line 3 line that's in, I'm only a couple of miles away from where it crosses the Prairie River. And that one time...I can't remember how many years back, probably 30 or so years ago, maybe a little more, there was a breach in the line where it actually was leaking oil into the river. So, it's been there a long time, and it does needs its upgrades and stuff. And by my understanding, they've got different routes planned for part of it. But my big concern is, I'd like to see it replaced, and the parts where they're discontinuing to be removed from the ground rather than just capped and left in. That's my biggest thing with it. Let's get it rebuilt, so it's not leaking oil. And then let's take the bad parts right out of the ground and get rid of them.
Q: That is Dennis Barsness, running for Senate District 5. You can find more information on him at grassrootsparty.net. Thanks for your time today.
A: Thank you.