A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota has been approved in its 12th House committee, with more still to come as a Senate companion version also continues to advance.
The House Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) in a 7-5 vote on Wednesday. Last week, the companion bill from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) advanced through a ninth committee in that chamber.
“Minnesotans are ready for this change,” Stephenson said ahead of the House committee vote. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good, and Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make their own decisions about cannabis.”
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.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) recently 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.
Stephenson and Port have separately introduced the governor’s cannabis budget proposal in their respective chambers. The House version was taken up by the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee on Tuesday, with members voting to re-refer it to the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee. Those bills are being carried by the legalization sponsors as a courtesy to the governor and are not expected to advance.
Walz discussed his proposal in a recent interview, explaining why he’s calling for a tax rate on marijuana sales that’s nearly double that of the bill that’s advancing in the legislature.
That legislation 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.
The governor has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast last 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 Wednesday’s hearing, the committee considered several amendments.
The panel defeated an amendment that would have deleted sections of the bill to create the CanStartup and CanNavigate grants programs, which, respectively, are aimed at supporting new cannabis and job creation in communities where residents are eligible to be social equity applicants and to help people navigate the regulatory structure of the legal cannabis industry.
Another amendment to remove provisions directing new programs to focus on areas where people are eligible to be social equity applicants and instead have them focus on communities that are “in need of economic stimulus” was also defeated.
Additionally, a proposal to allow cannabis events to only last for up to 12 hours on a single day instead of up to four days was also rejected.
Rep. Hodan Hassan (D), who chairs the committee, circulated a memo in advance of the meeting saying that several additional Republican-led amendments were not germane to the jurisdiction of the panel and would not be considered.
Some of those proposals would have deleted the major legalization portions of the bill while turning it into a limited reform to decriminalize marijuana possession, set the legal age for cannabis at 25 instead of 21 and made it so that people would have to be at least 25—instead of 21—to work at a marijuana business or own a business license.
Other blocked amendments would have allowed employers to require job applicants for safety-sensitive positions to undergo cannabis testing, made it so anyone operating a current CBD business would be able to get a cannabis business license, placed limitations on the number of cannabis retail licenses that could be issued within a given city on par with limits for alcohol retail licenses and allowed local governments to prohibit marijuana businesses and reject cannabis events while allowing them to charge local registration fees of up to $2,000 instead of $200.
The next stop for the bill is the House Transportation 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.
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The House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks are the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The Senate committees that have signed off so far are the Labor Committee, Human Services Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
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 last 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 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 last 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.
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