An eighth Minnesota House committee on Thursday approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.
This time, the House Education Finance Committee cleared the legislation by a vote of 8-6.
The legislation—which was introduced by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers in February—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.
If eight committee stops sounds like a lot for one bill, it’s because, as a general rule in state legislatures, it is. And this proposal still has more to go. It will next head to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.
The bill “seeks to right many of the past wrongs that have been caused by a war on drugs that has been based on false information related to the dangers of cannabis and has unfortunately led to the over-policing and over-targeting of certain communities in Minnesota, particularly communities of color,” Winkler said at Thursday’s hearing.
“We have a cannabis system that does not work,” he said. “The bill is designed to create a better system for regulation, and restricting access to cannabis, particularly for youth. And I think this bill is a model for how we can better regulate a product, whose regulation today has been a failure and in many ways caused more harm than the product itself.”
The previous panel to approve the legislation was the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee last week. Before that, it passed the 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.
Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.
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Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s 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.