The Minnesota legislature has approved large-scale legislation that contains provisions to legalize drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, residue and testing—a win for harm reduction advocates in the state.
As part of a criminal justice and public safety omnibus bill, bicameral lawmakers agreed to a final conference report last week that includes the drug policy reform measures. The Senate passed the report on Friday and the House approved it on Monday in a 69-63 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk.
The bill removes language from code that currently criminalizes the possession and delivery of drug paraphernalia. As revised, the new law would only say 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 would no longer constitute illegal possession under the legislation, which incorporated language from a standalone bill sponsored by Rep. Aisha Gomez (D).
MINNESOTA HOUSE PASSES legalization of ALL drug paraphernalia and ALL drug residue contained in drug paraphernalia.@GovTimWalz it’s now your turn to make history.
— Edward Krumpotich (@singawayek) May 16, 2023
“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,” statute would say as amended by the bill. (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 would 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.
We Did It Minnesota!!! HF2041 passed conference committee!!
It is almost a certainty the Governor will sign in a couple weeks!
We Decriminalized ALL drug paraphernalia and ALL drug residues and ALL drug testing!
— Edward Krumpotich (@singawayek) May 10, 2023
“The war of drug criminalization finally has a public health and community voice again,” Edward Krumpotich, a Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) consultant and Upper Midwest policy lead for the National Harm Reduction Coalition, told Marijuana Moment. “Substance use is an old practice with newer draconian dogmas and it’s time for a change. We’ve had enough.”
The bill also makes it so “hypodermic syringes or needles or any instrument or implement which can be adapted for subcutaneous injections” would no longer be considered illegal drug paraphernalia.
The state’s drug code would 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.
“A diverse coalition of public health officials, doctors, frontline workers, people with lived experience and public policy experts worked in collaboration this session to get this legislation to the Governor’s desk,” Kurtis Hanna, a drug law reform lobbyist, told Marijuana Moment. “Minnesota is now a signature away from becoming, to the best of our knowledge, the first state in the nation to fully legalize the delivery and possession of all drug paraphernalia, even if it has controlled substance residue in or on it.”
“While Minnesota is taking a piecemeal approach, instead the wholesale approach I would prefer, it is extremely fulfilling to assist the current legislature in further dismantling the failed war on drugs via this legislation and the adult use cannabis and psychedelic medicine task force bills,” he said.
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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, including the passage of marijuana legalization legislation that’s currently being finalized in conference committee.
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.
Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.