Paula Overby, running for the U.S. House on the third-party Legal Marijuana Now ticket in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, died Oct. 5.

Overby, 68, died of complications from a heart valve problem after two weeks in the hospital, her son, Tyler Overby, told the media, The Associated Press reported.

Overby was one of three major-party candidates in Minnesota’s 2nd District—one of the most hotly contested districts in the U.S.—which includes Democratic incumbent Rep. Angie Craig and Republican challenger Tyler Kistner. A two-term congresswoman, Craig defeated Kistner, 48.2%-46%, in the 2020 election. It was the closest congressional race in the state that year.

Overby, who previously ran for the 2nd Congressional District as an Independent in 2014, was expected to shake up the mostly suburban seat’s 2022 race, which Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said Oct. 4 was projected to be the second-most expensive congressional contest across the entire country in 2022.

As of the end of June, Craig’s reelection campaign had $4.7 million in the bank, the AP reported. That hefty financial support from mostly small donors comes as Democratic strategists warn that third-party candidates, like Overby, could serve as “spoilers” by drawing voters away from Democrats like Craig, who supports cannabis legalization.

As a third-party candidate, Overby was running on a ticket with a primary platform to oppose drug prohibition. The Legal Marijuana Now Party was established in 1998 in St. Paul, Minn., and became a major party in the state in 2018, when state auditor candidate Michael Ford received 5.3% of the vote. 

“Since leaving the two-party establishment in 2014, I’ve focused on political process reform and building a political movement that can successfully challenge the politics of wealth and the incumbency lock of the two major parties,” Overby said in a statement on her campaign website.

In Minnesota, pollsters revealed last month that 53% of the state’s likely voters support adult-use cannabis legalization, while 26% are opposed and 11% are undecided on the issue. That poll came more than a year after the state’s Democratic-controlled House passed an adult-use cannabis bill, which was later blocked by Senate Republicans.

While Minnesota remains a medical cannabis-only state, 2022 state lawmakers passed a law—that became effective in July—that allows adults 21 and older to purchase edibles that can contain up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving and 50 milligrams per package.

As a U.S. House candidate, Overby supported full cannabis legalization along with the taxation and regulation of an industry that includes equitable policies.

“The misguided ‘war’ on drugs has resulted in little more than the creation of a militarized police force that focuses on the incarceration of low-level drug users that feeds the for-profit prison industry and is waged primarily in communities of color and oppressive poverty, rather than addressing the root causes of this crisis,” she said on her campaign site. “It is time to end this masquerade. We are not winning, and we are suffering enormous casualties. This misguided initiative is clearly not providing any relief from this public health crisis.”

According to Munira Mohamed, a policy associate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota who testified in favor of the House-passed 2021 bill during the committee process, a Black person is 5.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than a white person in Minnesota, which is significantly higher than the national average of a Black person being 3.6 times more likely to be arrested.

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