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Minnesota House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

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After hours of debate on Thursday night that at times became heated, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.

After moving through 12 committees since being introduced in February, the full chamber passed the measure on a 72–61 vote, with some Republican support. It now proceeds to the Senate, where leaders in the GOP majority have vowed to derail it.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers, the legislation would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said on the House floor before the vote. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color, especially Black Minnesotans.”

“House File 600 legalizes cannabis for adult use in Minnesota, expunging records related to past cannabis convictions,” he continued. “It creates a legal marketplace focused on allowing more opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses in Minnesota and creates a pathway for social equity applicants to be part of a growing industry.”

The governor supports legalization, but the bill is still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have indicated that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than more broadly ending prohibition.

However, Winkler said that, if the chamber does take it up for vote, he expects it would pass. At the very least, the momentum could spur GOP members to take up more modest reforms such as expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, he told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Tuesday.

“I think we are having an effect on them, and they feel the pressure to find a way to act because they know that they are losing this and the public will eventually win and get this,” Winkler said.

Part of winning over some Republican support involved adopting friendly amendments such as putting some cannabis revenue toward tax relief.

Winkler announced as the House discussion of the bill began that Democrats planned to accept “amended forms or final versions of most of the amendments that have been offered by the Republican side.”

“We think that further conversation on some of these issues is required,” he said, “but I will say that your engagement, your improvements to the bill are something that I’m committed to, and we will continue to make improvements to this bill as it moves through the process.”

The chamber ultimately adopted many GOP-led amendments, although in some cases lawmakers made further changes to those amendments.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

One, offered by Rep. Keith Franke (R), earmarks 5 percent of all revenue from legal cannabis for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. Another, from Rep. Tony Jurgens (R), routes $1 million over two years to the Minnesota State Patrol to fund training for drug recognition evaluation training and other staff to identify drug use.

Winkler urged fellow Democrats to support both amendments, as well as a third amendment from Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), that would protect gun ownership rights for medical marijuana patients and adult cannabis consumers. Individuals would be authorized to refrain from reporting their cannabis use on state firearms-related forms. Lawmakers also approved another amendment from Munson that would protect personal data from the state-legal cannabis system from being shared with federal officials unless required by a court order.

The House also adopted an amendment from Jurgens to establish a pilot program that would test drivers for cannabis impairment using an experimental roadside saliva test. Lawmakers, however, first changed that amendment to prohibit law enforcement from arresting people based on the test result.

Other Republican-led amendments, however, fell short on the floor. Rep. Nolan West (R) proposed two amendments that were essentially gutted by further amendments from Majority Leader Winkler. One would have allowed local governments to opt out of licensing cannabis businesses, effectively allowing bans on the industry entirely. But West withdrew the proposal after lawmakers passed Winkler’s change to the amendment that limited local lawmakers to merely capping the number of licensed businesses to one per 500 of a jurisdiction’s residents.

West’s other proposed amendment would have allowed employers to refuse to hire job applicants if they were to test positive for cannabis use. But after Winkler’s amendment to the proposal—which would only allow positive tests to be grounds for a refusal to hire “safety-sensitive positions,” West again withdrew his amendment.

Lawmakers rejected a proposal from Rep. Peggy Scott (R) that would have raised the proposed legal age for cannabis to 25.

The chamber adopted a separate Scott amendment that requires the state to study legalization’s impacts on mental health, substance use disorder, education and other outcomes in the years following legalization. Initially the amendment would have dissolved the state’s legal cannabis program if those studies found racial disparities in those outcomes, but a subsequent amendment from Winkler removed that provision.

Another adopted amendment, from Rep. Susan Akland (R), adds a labeling requirement for marijuana products that warns that cannabis “may be hazardous to your health and may impair judgment. Do not operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery while under the influence of cannabis or a cannabis product.”

A sweeping amendment from Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo initially would have made major changes to the House legalization proposal, gutting its social equity and community investment provisions. Garafolo, however, amended his own amendment to remove those portions and make other adjustments.

The House ultimately split Garafolo’s revised amendment, passing only a portion of it. The approved portion adjusts the makeup of the state Cannabis Management Board, putting more control of appointments in the hands of state lawmakers rather than the governor. It also reduces proposed funding for state oversight of the legal industry by 25 percent.

Prior to the House session, the chamber’s Democratic leaders held a press conference to urge passage of the bill.

“We have this bill before us today because Minnesotans have decided that it’s time to legalize cannabis and right the wrongs of the criminal prohibition of cannabis that has failed Minnesotans,” Winkler said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL) noted that while people use cannabis at roughly the same rate regardless of their race, people of color in Minnesota are eight times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges. “Continuing our legacy of racial injustice is simply not defensible any longer,” she said.

Hortman also took a shot at what she called a “dad joke” made earlier in the day Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who told reporters, “The marijuana bill in the Senate is up in smoke. That’s not going to happen.”

“We know that Senate Republicans are opposed,” Hortman said, “as Senator Gazelka’s dad joke revealed earlier today, but we’re continuing to move forward on this because Minnesotans need to know that we are fighting for them. They have come forward, they have told us that this is the right thing to do [and] this is the right time to do it.”

Winkler noted that even many Republicans acknowledge the system is broken. “Even the people who oppose the bill we have today, or oppose the idea of legalization, admit that the criminal justice side of our laws are doing harm,” he said, “and we’re seeing some willingness on the part of Republicans to move on that.”

Shows of popular support for the adult-use bill, especially among Republican constituents, has already made an impact, the lawmakers said. Republicans have already expressed a willingness to reduce criminal penalties around cannabis, they noted, and seem more willing to consider proposals to decrease the cost of medical marijuana and remove current restrictions on cannabis flower for patients.

Meanwhile, time is running out to get the legalization bill through the full legislature before the session ends on May 17. Republicans on the House floor expressed frustration on Thursday that the body was spending so much time on a bill that may ultimately fail in the Senate.

“During this pandemic, and with just a few days left in session, here we are wasting our time on this marijuana bill that has no chance of becoming law,” Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) said during the floor debate.

State Attorney General Keith Ellison (D), for his part, called on lawmakers to approve legalization.

“Law enforcement in MN should be focused on serious crimes, not low-level cannabis offenses that lead to significant racial disparities in our criminal-justice system and injustice in our communities, and do little or nothing to keep us safer,” he said in a Twitter post.

Before reaching the floor, the legalization bill passed the Ways and Means CommitteeTaxes CommitteeHealth Finance and Policy CommitteePublic Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy CommitteeEducation Finance CommitteeState Government Finance and Elections CommitteeJudiciary Finance and Civil Law CommitteeEnvironment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy CommitteeAgriculture Finance and Policy CommitteeWorkforce and Business Development Finance and Policy CommitteeLabor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

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.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

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.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and 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.

Walz 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.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Ballot Campaign After Legislative Filibuster Blocks Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants

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A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) first announced their intent to file the legislation in November, arguing that it is a necessary reform to ensure patient access by giving people a less costly alternative to buying from dispensaries.

Registered patients who are 21 and older, and who have been residents of the state for at least 30 days, could grow up to six plants in an “enclosed and locked space” at their residence, according to the text of the bill. They would be allowed to buy cannabis seeds from licensed dispensaries

 

In an earlier cosponsorship memo for the new home grow bill, the lawmakers said that letting patients cultivate their own medicine would “help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”

The new legislation has three other initial cosponsors in addition to Street and Laughlin.

Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.

The senators argue that patients in particular are deserving of a home grow option, as some must currently travel hours to visit a licensed dispensary and there are financial burdens that could be alleviated if patients could grow their own plants for medicine.

Late last year, Laughlin and Street also unveiled a separate adult-use legalization proposal that faces significant challenges in the GOP-controlled legislature. And Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.

Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Rep. Amen Brown (D) separately announced his intent to file a legalization bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Minnesota Democratic Leaders Preview Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2022

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Minnesota Democratic leaders are preparing for another push to legalize marijuana this session, with the sponsor of the House-passed reform bill saying he will be reworking the legislation in an effort to build further support—though it continues to face an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy during a roundtable event hosted by the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative on Wednesday.

Winkler said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, 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.”

“As we look ahead to this session…our goal is to go back and reexamine provisions of the bill,” he said. Licensing structures, public safety and substance misuse concerns are among the issues that lawmakers will be looking at to improve upon the legislation.

“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” Winkler added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”

The leader said that “any effort this year that would be successful would require Republican support as well.”

But while advocates are encouraged to hear that the House may again vote to pass the legalization legislation, the Senate minority leader tempered expectations about the bill’s prospects in her Republican-run chamber.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a path to legalization this year in the Minnesota Senate,” Franzen said. “It’s controlled by the Republican party, and they have there’s a few members who are really adamantly opposed to legalization.”

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is supportive of cannabis legalization, and while the broad reform didn’t advance last session, he did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

Winkler said on Wednesday that “it was because of the work done” by advocates on legalization that put pressure on Senate Republicans to advance that legislation.

Another cannabis issue playing out in Minnesota concerns CBD. The state agriculture department and pharmacy board have increased enforcement against the sale of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in recent months, prompting calls for legislative reform.

Winkler said that the political dynamics around legalization that led to the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program will be “a template for how we will address challenges with CBD this year.”

“My staff is working very closely with advocates, working with senators, working with other House members to get in a repair for the CBD industry, and I have every confidence that we will be able to do that with your help,” he said.

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.

Winkler 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.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

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A Republican Nebraska senator introduced a bill on Thursday that ostensibly seeks to legalize medical marijuana in the state—but activists have raised concerns that the restrictive measure may be an attempt to subvert an effort to pass even broader patient protections on the 2022 ballot.

Sen. Mike Groene (R) filed the legislation, which would allow certain patients to buy and possess cannabis oils, pills and up to two and a half ounces of flower at a limited number of dispensaries. Smoking or inhaling marijuana would be banned, however, as would making edibles—so it’s not clear how patients would consume the flower they could possess.

But the main problem is, the bill would maintain that cultivating marijuana in Nebraska for commercial or personal use is illegal, meaning dispensaries wouldn’t even have a legal means of obtaining cannabis products for patients.

The bill is also severely restrictive in terms of who would qualify for cannabis. It would only permit access to people with stage IV cancer, uncontrolled seizures, severe muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy or a terminal illness with less than a one year probable life expectancy.

It’s being backed by the Nebraska chapter of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), leading some advocates to suspect that the lack of cultivation provisions is designed to be a “poison pill” while misleading voters into thinking that there is a good faith effort to legalize medical cannabis legislatively.

“This appears to be a political stunt,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Opponents of medical cannabis know there is a viable campaign to put medical cannabis on the ballot, and they know Nebraskans will overwhelmingly support that effort.”

“This is an attempt to take our focus away from that,” he said. “But it won’t succeed because it’s clear that this proposal is not a good faith effort to find some middle ground on the issue.”

The bill comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) continues to work to collect signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives that advocates hope to place on the November ballot. They have until July to collect 87,000 valid signatures to qualify each of their complementary measures.

Activists with the group collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it, finding that the proposal violated the single-subject rule for citizen initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Now this legislation from Groene is entering the mix for the 2022 session. And SAM Nebraska co-chair John Kuehn told The Lincoln Journal-Star that it’s “a good faith effort and we are willing to look at this as an acceptable alternative to creating a marijuana industry in the state of Nebraska.”

While advocates aren’t necessarily buying that argument given that it would authorize dispensaries without providing the ability to cultivate marijuana products, some like NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D) are willing to work with the senator to get the bill into a more acceptable shape for patients.

“It would be the status quo,” Wishart said. “I want a safe system, but there are practical realities patients are living with every day. No one wants a system that doesn’t work.”

Notably, Groene did support a procedural motion to advance Wishart’s more expansive medical cannabis bill last session.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, pounced on the restrictive nature of Groene’s bill and said it makes it “not easy or feasible for most” to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor.

Shari Lawlor, a member of Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said that the group is “grateful that Sen. Groene recognizes the importance of medical cannabis,” but as drafted, “this is a medical cannabis bill with no cannabis.”

“It envisions a system with dispensaries but no farmers or cultivators who actually produce the medical cannabis that patients need,” she said. “And since patients are not allowed to cultivate medical cannabis themselves under this proposal, there is effectively no way for patients to get the relief they need.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is no fan of legalization. He partnered with SAM Nebraska on a recent ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state. Given the organization’s support for this new GOP proposal, there’s some suspicion that he might back it to give the appearance that the administration isn’t deaf to calls for reform by voters.

Advocates aren’t going to be deterred by the bill’s introduction. They will be moving forward with the complementary medical cannabis initiatives in hopes to getting the issue to voters.

The campaign deliberately chose to take a bifurcated approach because of the state Supreme Court invalidation over the single-subject rule.

One of the statutory initiatives would establish legal protections for patients and doctors around cannabis, while the other would allow private companies to produce and sell medical marijuana products.

Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.

Wishart and NMM co-chair Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) announced in late 2020 that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022. But for now their focus appears to be on the medical cannabis effort.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general argued in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

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