The governor of Minnesota included funding to implement marijuana legalization in his annual budget request to lawmakers on Wednesday—a move that comes while Democratic legislative leaders prepare to advance the reform again this session even as it has stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has consistently expressed support for the policy change, but he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his last budget request. Now he says he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with a bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House last year.
The governor’s recommended funding for legalization would go to numerous state agencies, including those dealing with education, health, public safety, human services, the state Supreme Court, corrections and more.
The budget “also includes funding for grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market, provides for expungement of non-violent offenses involving cannabis, and implements taxes on adult-use cannabis,” the request says.
“The Governor and Lieutenant Governor know that Minnesota needs modernized solutions to harness the benefits of legalizing cannabis, including expanding our economy, creating jobs across the state, allowing law enforcement to focus on violent crime, and regulating the industry in order to keep our kids safe,” a press release says. “The Governor and Lieutenant Governor recommend funding for the safe and responsible legalization of cannabis for adult-use in Minnesota.”
“A new Cannabis Management Office would be responsible for the implementation of the regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis, along with the medical cannabis program, and a program to regulate hemp and hemp-derived products. The recommendation also includes funding for grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market, additional resources for substance use disorder treatment and prevention, provides for expungement of non-violent offenses involving cannabis, and implements taxes on adult-use cannabis.”
“Prohibiting the use of cannabis in Minnesota hasn’t worked.”
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While advocates are hopeful that the sponsors of that legislation will be able to make revisions and advance it through the House again this year, its prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are less certain. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy for enacting the reform last week.
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“Because of the hard work done by advocates in recent years, legalizing cannabis for adult-use within a regulated market and expungement of past cannabis convictions is now a mainstream idea that has the support of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Governor Tim Walz,” Winkler said in a press release on Wednesday, reacting to the budget proposal.
“Senate Republicans are now the sole barrier preventing Minnesota from legalizing cannabis and expanding adults’ personal freedoms,” he said. “I invite Senate Republicans to collaborate with advocates and lawmakers this year to advance mainstream policies like legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging cannabis convictions.”
Full statement: pic.twitter.com/eVJstwxnIq
— Minnesota House DFL (@mnhouseDFL) January 26, 2022
Winkler previously said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the floor, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions—but it is not a perfect bill.”
“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” he added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”
Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, told Marijuana Moment that the governor’s “inclusion of cannabis legalization as a priority in his proposed supplemental budget is directly responsive to the issues Minnesotans care about most right now.”
That includes “the need for more good-paying jobs and more opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers, small businesses, and local economies; the need to expunge the past cannabis records of people who are needlessly shut out of the struggling labor market; the need to free up our public safety and criminal justice systems to focus on real violent crimes and criminals; and the need to undo the decades of harm our prohibition laws have inflicted on our neighbors and communities of color,” Fatehi said.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted last session, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Governors outside of Minnesota have also been talking up marijuana reform at the start of the new year.
For example, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market. And her budget estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.
The governor of Rhode Island included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—the second time he’s done so. And time around, he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.