More Minnesota House and Senate committees have approved companion bills to legalize marijuana, moving them closer to the floor after weeks of legislative action.
The House Human Services Policy Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) in a voice vote on Monday, marking the eighth panel in the chamber to clear the measure.
Hours later, the Senate Transportation Committee approved the companion version, also in a voice vote vote. This is the sixth Senate panel to advance the legislation, which is being carried by Sen. Lindsey Port (D).
“It’s time. Minnesotans are ready,” Stephenson said in opening remarks on Monday. “Our current laws related to cannabis are doing more harm than good. There is a more sensible approach to this issue that relies not on the criminal justice system to solve problems related to cannabis, and other tools within our disposal.”
“Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make their own decisions about cannabis—and this bill is about providing them with that opportunity,” he said.
During the Senate panel hearing, Port said that “prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially communities of color.”
“We have an opportunity today to continue the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to 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,” the senator said. “Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge—and we are working to ensure this bill does just that.”
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.
The governor 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.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) 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. That group announced last month that it would be lobbying for the measure while leading a grassroots effort to build support for reform.
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 last month 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 the newly adopted amendments. For example, it adds a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products” under Minnesota’s unique THC law that the governor signed last year.
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.
At Monday’s House committee hearing, members approved an amendment to delete references to substance use “disorder” and add references to “recovery” when describing the scope of grants that are created and funded by the legalization bill.
Members of the Senate panel, meanwhile, approved a series of amendments, including two from the sponsor. The first would require outdoor advertisements on land adjacent to highways to comply with the requirements of state laws on billboards, while also requiring regulators to consult with the commissioner of transportation when setting criteria for awarding cannabis transportation licenses.
The second adopted change from Port would make a technical change to the bill to move the location of language allocating funding for the Minnesota State Patrol for its drug evaluation and classification program for drug recognition evaluator training, additional phlebotomists and drug recognition training for peace officers.
Port also accepted an amendment from another lawmaker that would criminalize using marijuana or having an open container of marijuana in a motor vehicle on a street or highway, though she said that she would work to tweak its provisions later in the legislative process.
Additional adopted amendments from other members clarify that the legalization bill cannot be construed to “allow cannabis to be transported outside of the state unless explicitly authorized by federal law,” give police dog handlers the first right to adopt them when they retire, add an appropriations clause to fund State Patrol efforts to retire and replace canines as a result of legalization and add the colonel of the State Patrol and the director of the Office of Traffic Safety to the Cannabis Advisory Council.
Further approved changes would support increased State Patrol enforcement of impaired driving laws on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20, allow the commissioner of transportation to inspect cannabis transporter records, require regulators to issue a report on marijuana-related traffic and transportation issues and replace the oral fluid preliminary testing pilot project in the bill with differing provisions.
A member withdrew an amendment that would have made it so the commissioner of transportation, rather than marijuana regulators, would issue cannabis transporter licenses.
The panel defeated amendments that would have deemed drivers with any amount of marijuana or THC metabolites in their systems to be driving under the influence and make it so the bill wouldn’t become effective until the colonel of the State Patrol certified that officers have been trained on enforcing new cannabis laws.
The committee rejected another amendment to fill in blank spaces in the bill for appropriations amounts to various agencies and programs and to change the source of certain funds from the trunk highway fund to the general fund, but then approved a separate amendment that includes only the second clause of the former proposal.
In the House, the bill’s next stop is the Education Finance Committee, which is set to meet to consider the proposal on Thursday. The Senate version will go to the Health & Human Services Committee, which will take it up next week.
We have three hearings scheduled for this week, including two back-to-back this afternoon.
— MN is Ready (@mnisready) February 13, 2023
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.
The House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks are the 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 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.
At last week’s Senate Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee hearing, the state’s former governor, Jesse Ventura, appeared to testify, delivering an impassioned speech endorsing the reform and sharing his personal experience breaking the law to get his late wife cannabis to treat serious seizures.
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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 told Marijuana Moment last month 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 earlier this 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 Mike Latimer.