An eleventh Minnesota House committee on Wednesday approved a bill to legalize marijuana—the latest development in its long path to a vote on the floor, which is expected this month.
The House Taxes Committee cleared the legislation by a vote of 12-6. Its next and final committee stop is Ways and Means.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
“Minnesotans across the state have personal experience with health conditions being improved with cannabis. They have seen that the current prohibition model using the criminal justice system is failed to keep cannabis out of the hands of kids,” Winkler said in opening remarks. “It has failed to stop the use of cannabis in Minnesota—and, in fact, has created more problems than cannabis itself.”
He also stressed that the plan is to keep taxes on marijuana low in order to “make sure that there is no barrier in migrating from an illegal marketplace into a legal regulated marketplace.”
Members of the committee approved the bill after adopting two amendments.
The provisions of an amendment from Winkler clean up language that was changed previously by other committees and concern issues such as requirements for cannabis delivery business license applicants, standards for storing marijuana products and the appropriation of funds for various agencies and boards involved in the administration of the cannabis program.
The panel also accepted an amendment from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) that directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.
The bill legalizing marijuana still needs work. But by accepting this amendment today it took a big step forward.
The bill now lowers taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed by taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.
A win for limited government.https://t.co/5HuHTM2L17
— Representative Pat Garofalo (R) (@PatGarofalo) May 5, 2021
“The adoption of this amendment is a gamechanger,” Garofalo said in a press release. “The Democrat majority accepting this amendment means that if signed into law, this bill will result in lowering taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed with the revenue generated from taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.”
“While this bill would benefit from further improvements, this is a very positive movement towards gaining additional support from conservatives,” he said.
Another amendment from Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R) would have added language to the bill’s findings section stating that “we don’t want taxes to be too high and we don’t want regulatory burdens to be too difficult to navigate,” which “would cause a barrier and we have seen that in other states.” The panel rejected it, however.
This latest vote to approve the legalization bill comes days after the Health Finance and Policy Committee passed the measure.
Before that, it passed the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, the Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
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If the bill does make it all the way through the House, it’s still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.
The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.
The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.
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.
Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.
The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.