Minnesota senators in a key committee have advanced a bill to legalize marijuana—the latest panel to consider the reform along its extensive legislative journey.
The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee was the first panel in the chamber to consider the legislation from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in January, taking testimony on the measure as introduced. Members took it back up on Friday, approving a series of amendments and voting to send it to its next committee without a recommendation.
A total of 10 Senate committees have now officially approved the Senate measure, and a House companion version from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) has cleared 13 committees in that chamber so far.
“Prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” Port said on Friday. “We have an opportunity to undo some of the harm that has been done and create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses, while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”
“Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge—and we are working to ensure that this bill does just that,” she said.
While both versions have been amended numerous times throughout this process, a Senate panel adopted a comprehensive substitute from the sponsor at a prior committee stop on Tuesday that is primarily meant to address concerns from industry stakeholders who are operating under a cannabis law enacted last year that legalized low-THC edibles in the state.
The amendment would create two new licensing categories, change license application and transfer provisions, provide cities and counties with more regulatory control and clean up language by combining previously distinct sections, among other revisions.
Stephenson said his companion will undergo a similar overhaul at its next committee stop.
With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials are confident that legalization will be enacted in short order following the extensive committee consideration.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) recently released his biennial budget request, which included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, and made projections about the millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue that his office estimates the state will earn after the reform is enacted.
Walz discussed his proposal in a recent interview, explaining why he’s calling for a tax rate on marijuana sales that’s nearly double that of the bill that’s advancing in the legislature.
That legislation is an iteration of the 2021 House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready.
The governor has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast in January that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Much of the revised bills that are advancing through committee are consistent with Winkler’s legislation, though there are a few key changes, in addition to all of the newly adopted amendments. For example, it adds a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products.”
There would also be reduced regulatory requirements for those licensees, and they’d be able to permit on-site consumption if they have a liquor license, which is meant to ensure that shops currently selling low-THC beverages and edibles don’t face disruption.
But throughout the committee process, industry stakeholders have pushed for additional changes to the legislation so that businesses that entered the market under the law enacted in 2022 aren’t excessively impacted.
At the Senate hearing, members of the panel approved several amendments to the bill.
One makes several changes to the legislation’s expungements provisions. It delays the effective date of those sections of the bill from August 1, 2023 to January 1, 2025 and makes technical changes to language on background checks for marijuana business license applicants and prospective cannabis business employees and for sections relating to record sealing for dismissed charges.
The change, as further revised by amendments to the amendment, also contains provisions clarifying that people whose records are expunged will have their firearms rights restored, allowing people with immigration status issues to get access to their expungements records and adding language providing for notice of expungements to prosecutors.
Separate adopted amendments make it so that people can possess up to five pounds of marijuana at home if they cultivated it themselves while otherwise being limited to having two pounds; specify which data from marijuana businesses and license applicants is public or nonpublic; make technical changes with respect to driving while impaired by intoxicating hemp products; fix drafting errors in provisions on lower potency hemp-derived products and clarify that being a medical cannabis patient could not impact parole, supervised release or conditional release.
Another successful amendment allows people who are “injuriously affected or whose personal enjoyment is lessened by” marijuana activity that is deemed to be a “nuisance” to bring civil claims for actual damages or civil penalties
The bill’s next stop is the Senate Rules Committee. The House version is going back to the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee, which is chaired by the sponsor and previously considered the measure earlier this year.
Adults 21 and older could purchase up to two ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
They could possess up to two ounces in a public place and up to five pounds in a private dwelling.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
It would promote social equity, in part by ensuring that diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher.
Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief and process the expungements.
In addition to creating a system of licensed cannabis businesses, municipalities and counties could own and operate government dispensaries.
On-site consumption permits could be approved for events, and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill.
Unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location of those businesses.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at eight percent. Part of that revenue would fund substance misuse treatment programs, as well as grants to support farmers.
A new Office of Cannabis Management would be established, and it would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. There would be a designated Division of Social Equity.
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.
The legislation as revised fixes an issue in current statute that prohibits liquor stores from selling THC products.
It also contains language banning synthetic cannabinoids, which is consistent with Board of Pharmacy rules put into place last year.
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The House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks are the Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The Senate committees that have signed off so far are the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee, Labor Committee, Human Services Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Transportation Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Lawmakers and the governor have expressed optimism about the prospects of legalization this session, especially with Democrats newly in control of both chambers, whereas last session they only had a House majority.
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said recently that she expects cannabis reform to be included in the governor’s forthcoming budget request, though she reiterated that the reform “will take a long time” to move through the legislature.
While marijuana reform was excluded from a list of legislative priorities that Democrats unveiled last month, Hortman said that the issue is “a priority,” albeit a “very big, complicated.”
The governor included funding for implementing legalization in his last executive budget request, but lawmakers were unable to enact the policy change. He and Hortman have differing opinions about how quickly the issue can advance this session, however, with Walz recently saying it would be done “by May” and the speaker indicating it could take until next year.
Winkler, who recently launched a THC beverage company, told Marijuana Moment that he agrees with the governor, saying “it is likely that [passing legalization] will be done by May.”
“The reason is that the legislature adjourns until next year at the end of May, and so if they don’t do it in that timeline, it’ll take another full year—and I don’t think anything will be improved or bettered by waiting,” he said. “So it’s in everyone’s interest to get this bill passed.”
Two polls released in September found that the majority of Minnesota residents support adult-use marijuana legalization—and one survey showed that even more Minnesotans approve of the state’s move to legalize THC-infused edibles that was enacted last year.
A survey conducted by officials with the House at the annual State Fair that was released in September also found majority support for legalization. That legislature-run poll found that 61 percent of Minnesotans back legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.