The governor of Minnesota has signed large-scale legislation that includes provisions to legalize drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, residue and testing.
As lawmakers prepare for a final vote on a separate marijuana legalization bill, Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed off on the criminal justice and public safety omnibus bill with harm reduction components on Friday.
Effective August 1, the measure removes language from code that has criminalized the possession and delivery of drug paraphernalia. As revised, the new law only says that it is “unlawful for any person to intentionally manufacture drug paraphernalia for delivery,” omitting the previous possession language for the misdemeanor offense.
Also, small amounts of drug residue that are discovered on paraphernalia will no longer constitute illegal possession under the legislation, which incorporated some provisions from a standalone bill sponsored by Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten (D) and Rep. Aisha Gomez (D).
Proud to carry this bill! https://t.co/EPJEUnH9lO
— Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten (@SenClareOumou) May 19, 2023
“Our Minnesota harm reduction and substance use communities have been silenced for too long,” Oumou Verbeten said in a press release. “Jail is not the answer to a public health crisis that continues to incarcerate Black, brown and Indigenous Minnesotans with little rehabilitative success and alarmingly high overdose rates.
“I am proud to author SF 2261, an evidence-based approach to healing the errs of the failed drug war,” she said. “I look forward to authoring more bills like this in the future, the lives of Minnesotans are on the line.”
The bill makes it so that state law will now say that “a person is guilty of controlled substance crime in the fifth degree and upon conviction may be sentenced as provided in subdivision 4 if: the person unlawfully possesses one or more mixtures containing a controlled substance classified in Schedule I, II, III, or IV, except a small amount of marijuana or a residual amount of one or more mixtures of controlled substances contained in drug paraphernalia.” (Emphasis added.)
The bill further adds a new section to statute that authorizes syringe service providers, which are defined as a “community-based public health program that offers cost-free comprehensive harm reduction services.”
The syringe service centers will be allowed to provide sterile needles and other injection equipment, safely dispose of those items, offer educational materials on overdose prevention and safer injection practices, facilitate blood-borne pathogen testing, give referrals to substance misuse treatment and mental health and social services.
“Substance users have been rejected long enough,” Edward Krumpotich, a Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) consultant and Upper Midwest policy lead for the National Harm Reduction Coalition, told Marijuana Moment on Friday. “I fought for these changes since day one to advocate for people like me, people with lived experience whose light becomes darkened by stigma and oppression. My chronic homelessness on the streets of Minneapolis was my expertise, and I heard ‘no’ for the last time.”
“Harm Reduction is the now AND the future. We must meet our citizens where they are at and offer a hand and not a jail sentence,” he said. “Minnesota harm reductionists, people who use drugs and community-led advocates have lighted a path for us all. We did it!”
The bill also makes it so “hypodermic syringes or needles or any instrument or implement which can be adapted for subcutaneous injections” will no longer be considered illegal drug paraphernalia.
The state’s drug code will be amended to remove language that currently prohibits possession of products use for “testing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of a controlled substance.”
Harm reduction advocates say that these changes will greatly improve health outcomes for people who use drugs, mitigating the risk of overdose deaths, reducing the spread of blood-borne infections from contaminated needles and assisting those who want to enter into substance misuse treatment.
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Lawmakers in several states have moved to advance harm reduction legislation amid the opioid overdose crisis, with efforts underway in some places to legalize safe drug consumption sites where people could also use currently illicit substances in medically supervised facilities.
The legality of the centers under federal law is actively being reviewed in federal court after the Justice Department under the Trump administration sued to block the opening of a Philadelphia-based overdose prevention center. The Biden administration has generally supported the idea of harm reduction policy.
Since Democrats took the majority in both chambers of the Minnesota legislature after last year’s election, drug policy reform has advanced in a number of areas.
A much-anticipated bill to legalize cannabis in the state is set for a final vote in the Senate on Friday, after which point it will go to the governor’s desk. Walz has already pledged to sign the reform into law.
Also, the House recently passed an omnibus health bill that includes provisions that would create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization. Advocates are waiting to see if that language is maintained in the final conference report after negotiations with the Senate.