OFFICIAL AUG. 1
Gov. Tim Walz
Gov. Walz signs marijuana bill into law
By ANDY MONSERUD, Contributing Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN)—Gov. Tim Walz signed a cannabis legalization bill into law early May 30, making the state the 23rd to legalize marijuana for recreational use beginning Aug. 1.
The bill, which allows Minnesotans 21 and older to purchase, possess and use cannabis, was a plank in Walz’s 2018 campaign and a bigger one in his 2022 run for reelection. It also contains a regulatory scheme for a legal weed market, including a 10 percent sales tax and the establishment of an Office of Cannabis Management for regulation and enforcement purposes.
"It’s going to take us a bit of time to get this up and going" Walz said at a bill-signing ceremony shortly after noon on Tuesday, “but I assure Minnesotans that a lot of thought has gone into this."
Walz put particular emphasis on the bill’s provisions for expungement of many cannabis-related criminal records.
"We’ve got 50 years of folks that we’ve been arresting, and getting records on them," he said. "It’s not going to unwind immediately, but we feel a sense of urgency around that. We’ll start that process this summer and get moving on that, get folks’ records cleared up."
Also speaking at the signing were the bill’s legislative sponsors—Sen. Lindsey Port, D-Burnsville, and Represen- tative Zack Stephenson, D-Coon Rapids—and former Governor Jesse Ventura, who openly supported legaliza-
ization during his 1999-2003 term in the governor’s mansion. Port, Stephenson and Walz all paid homage to Ventura and other early cannabis legalization crusaders, with Walz noting that he’d spent many state fairs sitting in a booth across from Minnesota’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML), and Stephenson saying that this legislature was "just the anchor team of that race, carrying the baton across the finish line."
Ventura called back to his recent testimony before the state Senate, in which he said that he and wife Terry Ventura moved to Colorado after that state legalized medical marijuana to address Terry’s seizures.
"My wife took the first three drops under the tongue and has not had a seizure since. None," Ventura said at that time. "I kind of took the attitude of Dirty Harry Callahan when I said 'well, then the law is wrong, because I’m putting my wife ahead of Minnesota law.'"
At Tuesday’s signing, in between questions about license-tab fees—a bugbear of his 1998 campaign—Ventura expounded on the bill’s impacts.
"After years of prohibition, we didn’t want anyone to go through what the first lady and I went through," he said. "It’s very wonderful to see a dream of yours, over 20 years ago, finally happen today, and I’m still alive to see it."
Minnesota’s legal marijuana market is expected to take more than a year to be established, with the Office of Cannabis Management’s website stating that it expects retail sales to begin early in 2025. Meanwhile, transport and public possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower in public will become legal Aug. 1, as will possession of up to two pounds of flower in private homes.
The bill also includes provisions which would make marijuana business ownership easier for members of commu- nities, including those of color, who have historically seen disproportionate impacts from marijuana prohibition.
Legalization is one of a number of progressive reforms made by Minnesota Democrats in the last year, thanks to a state-government trifecta narrowly won by the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party’s trifecta in 2022.
Also on that list are a sweeping right-to-repair law, a paid family and medical leave bill that grants workers up to 12 weeks off a year with partial pay for either type of leave, capped at 20 weeks total, and a trans-refuge bill protect- ing seekers of gender-affirming care who come to Minnesota from other states.
Wisconsin antifreeze murderer again sentenced to life without parole
BY JOE KELLY, Contributing Writer
KENOSHA, Wis. (CN)—Mark Jensen, the Wisconsin man twice convicted of murdering his wife using antifreeze as poison, was sentenced to life without parole, the second such sentence he’s received in a dark, circuitous case going back more than 20 years.
The jury at the retrial of Jensen, 63, unanimously found him guilty in February of murdering his wife Julie Jensen, then 40, in 1998, taking less than a day to deliberate after more than two weeks of testimony from dozens of witnesses.
On Feb. 14, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Anthony Milisauskas—the third Kenosha judge to preside over Jensen’s case—only had to decide whether Jensen would get a chance at parole, as Wisconsin law mandates a life sentence for first-degree intentional homicide. He declined to give Jensen that chance.
The judge cited the overwhelming evidence of Jensen’s guilt, as well as the prolonged, calculated cruelty with which he carried out Julie’s murder after psychologically torturing her for years.
"This was planned out for a long time. It was intentional, it was researched, for the purpose of evil. He’s not getting any parole eligibility," Milisauskas concluded.
Ahead of the sentence, Jensen’s counsel pointed to the defendant’s lack of any other criminal record and devo- tion to his children and argued that he should have a chance at parole after 20 years of incarceration. Given the 15 years Jensen has already spent at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun—where he will now return—he would have been eligible for parole in five years.
Jensen, wearing navy Kenosha County detention scrubs, teared up while reading a statement before his sen- tence was handed down, in which he asked the court to grant him the opportunity to be a productive member of society and care for his children and aging parents, should they want him in their lives. After his sentence was handed down, he quietly exited the courtroom flanked by law enforcement, wrist and ankle shackles jingling.
Carli McNeill, a deputy district attorney who spoke on behalf of the state, told the court she was sickened by Jensen’s letter to the court using his kids as a rationale for leniency.
"He didn’t care about his kids enough not to murder their mother, and now they’re a reason for parole," McNeill said, calling Jensen’s crime "inconceivable to most people."
Three of Julie’s brothers also spoke before sentencing. They all asked for no parole and described among them the void their sister left behind and the unhappiness they’ve dealt with since Jensen mercilessly took her life and then lied to his family about it.
One of the brothers, Paul Griffin, read from a letter calling Jensen a “coward” who left his and Julie’s children "stranded," then compounded the tragedy by claiming her death was a suicide.
"I wrote this letter 15 years ago. Nothing has changed in that time," he said. "We ask for peace."
Prosecutors first charged Jensen with Julie’s murder in 2002, claiming he did it by surreptitiously feeding his wife antifreeze and suffocating her in her bed at their Pleasant Prairie home, a theory the state reiterated at the second trial.
Jensen’s consumption with anger and resentment of an affair his wife had in the early 1990s drove him to commit the murder, prosecutors said. The murder also freed him up to openly date a co-worker he himself was having an affair with and later married—a woman who ultimately divorced Jensen, then testified for the state at his retrial more than a decade later.
Though a lengthy initial trial presided over by two Kenosha judges before being relocated to nearby Walworth County ended in Jensen’s conviction and life sentence in 2008, questions about from-the-grave evidence nagged the proceedings, and numerous appeals and legal fights followed.
After constitutional issues over the evidence—including a letter Julie wrote and gave to a neighbor implicating her husband as her murderer in the event of her death—were handled by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on related matters, the circuit court ultimately admitted it.
But in 2013, Jensen prevailed with a habeas corpus petition filed in Milwaukee federal court, where US District Judge William Griesbach vacated his conviction, finding it was not harmless error to admit Julie’s from-the-grave statements in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.
After another trip to the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded with the challenged evidence being ruled inadmis- sible, prosecutors went back to the drawing board and tried Jensen again, beginning in January. Both trials featured at times bizarre testimony on Jensen’s sexual hang-ups, obsessive fixation on his wife’s affair and yearslong campaign to terrorize Julie before killing her by anonymously calling and emailing her and randomly placing pornography in and around their home for her to find.
Jensen’s son, Douglas, who was 3 when his mom was killed, filed a victim impact statement three days before his father’s sentencing. Douglas described growing up with fear and suspicion of his father as the only one in the family who did not seem convinced of his innocence, as well as the sadness of growing up without a caring mother who was "erased from [his] life." As an adult, an uncle he reconnected with told him he had her eyes.
Douglas, now 28 and happily married and working in social services, regretted that he has no memories of his mother. His father’s high-profile case, however, "has plagued my earliest memories and haunted my identity as I grew up in Kenosha, since everyone knew about the case," his letter read. Douglas ended his statement by asking the court for the maximum possible sentence.
Another of Jensen’s sons, David, filed a statement asking for the possibility of parole, saying he has "nothing but fond memories with him and [his] family" in the years following Julie’s death.
Commenting in a press conference after sentencing, McNeill said that despite Jensen’s claim that he just wants closure for all involved, She expects he will file an appeal.