A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota was approved in its fourth House committee and advanced through its Senate committee on Thursday.
Lawmakers are working quickly to pass the legislation that was introduced earlier this month. The House version cleared the Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee in a voice vote. In the Senate, that companion bill passed 5-3 in the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee.
The measures are being sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in their respective chambers.
“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” Port said at the Senate hearing on Thursday.
“We have an opportunity today to start the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been affected by prohibition,” the senator said. “Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge and we are working to ensure that this bill does just that.”
Stephenson, for his part, told the House panel that “the time has come to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state of Minnesota”
“Current laws are doing more harm than good. Minnesotans deserve the dignity and respect to make their own decisions about cannabis,” he said. “This bill shifts cannabis from the illicit marketplace to a legal, regulated marketplace where we can address the downstream impacts of cannabis consumption in a more honest way, and attempt to give people the freedom that they have.”
With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials are confident that legalization will be enacted in short order following the extensive committee consideration.
These latest developments come days after the governor released his biennial budget request, which included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, and made projections about the millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue that his office estimates the state will earn after the reform is enacted.
The legislation, meanwhile, is an iteration of the 2021 House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready. That group announced last month that it would be lobbying for the measure while leading a grassroots effort to build support for reform.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast this month that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Much of the revised bills that are advancing through committee are consistent with Winkler’s legislation, though there are a few key changes, in addition to the newly adopted amendments. For example, it adds a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products” under Minnesota’s unique THC law that the governor signed last year.
There would also be reduced regulatory requirements for those licensees, and they’d be able to permit on-site consumption if they have a liquor license, which is meant to ensure that shops currently selling low-THC beverages and edibles don’t face disruption.
During Thursday’s meeting, the House panel adopted an amendment from the bill sponsor that would delete a requirement for co-located medical cannabis and recreational marijuana operations to have separate entrances and eliminate the current medical cannabis patient enrollment fee.
It would also remove a required marijuana product warning label concerning pregnant and breastfeeding women while instead directing regulators to assess its necessity.
The amendment additionally addresses driving issues, including by adding language to criminalize having an open container of marijuana in a vehicle and promote cannabis-related driver education programs.
It would also change criminal statutes concerning cannabis possession and sales, and require state officials to submit reports on expungement efforts.
Landlords wouldn’t be able to take adverse action against people who possess non-combustable and non-vaping cannabis products on their property under another change in the amendment, but sober living facilities could prohibit such possession on their premises. Other technical changes are also part of the amendment, including by adding cannabis alongside other drugs in statutes concerning liability for bodily harm and other issues.
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The Senate committee, meanwhile, approved amendments to allow outdoor advertisers to post ads for cannabis products, require a study into the impact of cannabis usage, align hours of operation between dispensaries and liquor retailers and match warning label rules for tobacco and marijuana.
Other adopted amendments mandate that marijuana ads contain warnings on impairment and health risks and require equity officials to study the impact of cannabis use.
Members also defeated proposed revisions to give localities the ability to ban cannabis retailers, eliminate a labor-peace agreement requirement for marijuana businesses, deny liquor licensees the ability to sell cannabis edibles, make it so medical cannabis caregivers would need to be at least 21 rather than 18 and delay implementation of a license type for low-potency cannabinoid retailers for four years.
A proposed revision to delete language giving licensing points to people with prior marijuana convictions was withdrawn by the sponsor following pushback from Port.
The next stop for the Senate version is the Jobs and Economic Development Committee, while the House bill will head to the State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee.
Adults 21 and older could purchase up to two ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
They could possess up to two ounces in a public place and up to five pounds in a private dwelling.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
It would promote social equity, in part by ensuring that diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher.
Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief and process the expungements.
In addition to creating a system of licensed cannabis businesses, municipalities and counties could own and operate government dispensaries.
On-site consumption permits could be approved for events, and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill.
Unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location of those businesses.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at eight percent. Part of that revenue would fund substance misuse treatment programs, as well as grants to support farmers.
A new Office of Cannabis Management would be established, and it would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. There would be a designated Division of Social Equity.
People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.
The legislation as revised fixes an issue in current statute that prohibits liquor stores from selling THC products.
It also contains language banning synthetic cannabinoids, which is consistent with Board of Pharmacy rules put into place last year.
The House bill has so far been approved in the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee. The Senate version advanced through the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, though without a recommendation, and will be taken back up by the panel before potentially heading to the floor.
Lawmakers and the governor have expressed optimism about the prospects of legalization this session, especially with Democrats newly in control of both chambers, whereas last session they only had a House majority.
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said recently that she expects cannabis reform to be included in the governor’s forthcoming budget request, though she reiterated that the reform “will take a long time” to move through the legislature.
While marijuana reform was excluded from a list of legislative priorities that Democrats unveiled this month, Hortman said that the issue is “a priority,” albeit a “very big, complicated.”
The governor included funding for implementing legalization in his last executive budget request, but lawmakers were unable to enact the policy change. He and Hortman have differing opinions about how quickly the issue can advance this session, however, with Walz recently saying it would be done “by May” and the speaker indicating it could take until next year.
Winkler told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that he agrees with the governor, saying “it is likely that [passing legalization] will be done by May.”
“The reason is that the legislature adjourns until next year at the end of May, and so if they don’t do it in that timeline, it’ll take another full year—and I don’t think anything will be improved or bettered by waiting,” he said. “So it’s in everyone’s interest to get this bill passed.”
Two polls released in September found that the majority of Minnesota residents support adult-use marijuana legalization—and one survey showed that even more Minnesotans approve of the state’s move to legalize THC-infused edibles that was enacted earlier this year.
A survey conducted by officials with the House at the annual State Fair that was released in September also found majority support for legalization. That legislature-run poll found that 61 percent of Minnesotans back legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.