The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday signed a large-scale bill that includes provisions to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
Earlier this month, a bicameral conference committee approved the reform, in addition to several other marijuana-related changes, as part of an omnibus health bill. The full House and Senate then took it up and passed it last week—and now Gov. Tim Walz (D) has signed the measure.
This comes after the House approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsor of the legalization proposal, had predicted that the push for broader reform would lead to compromise policies like medical cannabis expansion.
The most significant change to Minnesota’s medical cannabis program will allow adults 21 and older to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must to take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
There are few remaining states that have medical cannabis programs in place but where smokable products are still prohibited. The Louisiana House approved a bill to allow access to flower products this session, and it’s pending action on the Senate floor. In Alabama, the governor signed a medical marijuana legalization bill last week that includes a ban on smokable cannabis.
Back in Minnesota, dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
There was one change attached to the health bill that could be of concern to advocates. It makes it so regulators could remove health conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana if they receive a petition from a member of the public or a task force. Currently, the commissioner is only able to approve new conditions or modify existing ones.
These are generally positive developments for advocates and patients, but there’s still disappointment over the fact that Winkler’s full legalization bill has stalled in the Senate.
Walz who hasn’t been especially vocal about the issue in recent weeks as the legislation has advanced, weighed in on the House passage of the legislation last week.
“I’ve thought for a long time about that,” he said, adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.