A fourth Minnesota Senate committee has approved a bill to legalize marijuana, another step along its extended journey to the floor as a House companion also continues to advance.
The Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee passed the legislation from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in a 5-4 vote. The measure is expected to go through a total of 18 panels in the chamber.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Erin Murphy (D) said at the beginning of Monday’s hearing that Minnesota has “an opportunity to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and Minnesota businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”
Presented SF73, legalizing adult use cannabis, in the Agriculture Committee late this afternoon. Working with @Lindsey_Port, @ClareOumou, @mnisready and many more, the bill is getting it’s rightful workout. #AboutDamnTime https://t.co/6zLA0VQfie pic.twitter.com/whGvk62HEQ
— Erin Murphy (@epmurphymn) February 7, 2023
“Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge—and we’re working to ensure that this bill does just that,” the senator said, adding that there are ongoing discussions about possible amendments to further improve on aspects of the legislation such as tax policy for the state’s existing hemp industry.
On the House side, the bill is being sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and has advanced through six committees so far. Its next stop is the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, which is scheduled to take up the proposal on Wednesday.
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.
The legislation, meanwhile, 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.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast this 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 Senate committee hearing, members approved an amendment requested by the agriculture department that would make it so regulators could not approve cannabis products that are “substantively similar” to meat, poultry or dairy products. Further, regulators would need to consult with the state agriculture commissioner on rules for agricultural chemicals.
The revision additionally includes a technical change to ensure that cannabis producers follow rules for fertilizers, soil amendments, plant amendments and other inputs in addition to those that are in place for pesticides.
Another amendment that was approved removes a prohibition on genetically engineered cannabis from the bill.
Members also adopted an amendment to remove cultivation and harvesting equipment from the definition of cannabis paraphernalia and to make a technical change to clarify that plant canopy sizes for cultivation tiers are measured in square feet.
An additional approved amendment requires officials to report geographic information on grants and loans issued under the CanGrow program, as well as information on the repayment rate for loans and for loans forgiven.
The committee defeated amendments to give more flexibility to farmers to use pesticides and to clarify that cannabis farmers wouldn’t need to track fertilizers and other chemicals as part of record logs.
The next stop for the legislation on the Senate side is the Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee on Thursday.
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 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.
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 Philip Steffan.