Marijuana legalization could be coming to Minnesota this year, lawmakers said on Monday.
Sens. Melisa Franzen (D) and Scott Jensen (R) introduced an adult-use legalization bill in the Senate, with Rep. Mike Freiberg (D) filing companion legislation in the House. At a press conference announcing the new proposals, the legislators expressed a general consensus that legalization is “inevitable” in the state.
“I’m here in part because I think the ship has sailed,” Jensen, who is a physician, said, explaining that he’s quickly evolved on the issue over the past three months and felt assured that conservative constituents were ready to have a serious discussion about legalization.
The proposed legislation would allow adults 21 and older to possess, grow and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, with regulators also being charged with approving testing and cultivation businesses.
The bill would create a pathway for expungements for past marijuana-related convictions and invest tax revenue from cannabis sales into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The House version is officially numbered HF 420—perhaps a nod to marijuana culture on the part of legislative staffers in Saint Paul.
“Minnesota’s outdated prohibition policy has become more of a problem than a solution,” Freiberg said in a press release. “It is forcing marijuana into a shady underground market, which creates more potential harm for consumers and communities than marijuana itself.”
“Regulating marijuana would make our state safer by removing the criminal element and empowering our state and local governments to start controlling production and sales,” he said.
Bill sponsors made a point to avoid emphasizing the potential revenue stream that legalization could bring to the state. While the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) estimated that a retail cannabis market would earn Minnesota up to $300 million in tax revenue per year, the lawmakers purposefully left the tax rate section blank to stress that it’s a “secondary” concern after health, safety and social justice issues.
“It is time for Minnesota to recognize that, like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, its prohibition of marijuana does not work,” MPP Minnesota Political Director Jason Tarasek said in a press release. “By legalizing marijuana and carefully regulating its sale, we can keep it out of the hands of teens without needlessly arresting responsible adult consumers. This would allow law enforcement to spend more time addressing serious crimes, while also creating a significant new revenue stream for our state.”
Last week, 15 House members signed onto a separate piece of legalization legislation that would allow for regulated retail cannabis sales. Unlike the new statutory bill filed on Monday, however, the earlier proposal is a constitutional amendment, which would require approval from voters on the ballot after being passed by lawmakers.
If any of these bills ultimately make it through the legislature, there’s a strong chance that Gov. Tim Walz (D) will sign off. He’s made repeated pledges to change that state’s marijuana laws—to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
In November, Walz said he thinks “it’s important for our partners both in the House and in the Senate to start and work things out.”
It appears lawmakers heard that message loud and clear, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) doesn’t think there’s enough support for legalization in his chamber.
“Legalizing recreational marijuana is not something I would consider a priority issue. Due to it’s linkage to mental health problems, driving accidents, and impaired teen brain development, I don’t think it has a chance to pass the Senate this year.” #mnleg #mnsenate pic.twitter.com/lAz3yXgHF8
— Paul Gazelka (@paulgazelka) January 28, 2019
“Senate Republicans are focused on reducing health care costs, supporting mental health care, and passing a balanced budget,” Gazelka said in a statement Monday. “Legalizing recreational marijuana is a controversial issue, to say the least, and not something I would consider a priority issue.”
This story was updated to include information about the official numbering of the legislation.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.