Yet another Minnesota House committee has approved a marijuana legalization bill, with several more to go in both chambers before potentially reaching the floor.
Lawmakers have been moving quickly on the legislation being sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in their respective chambers in recent weeks, and the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee became the latest to advance the measure on Tuesday, passing it in a voice vote.
This marks the fifth House panel to move the bill in recent weeks, while a Senate companion version also continues to move, advancing out of a fourth committee on Monday.
“Minnesotans are ready for this change,” Stephenson told members of the committee. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good.”
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.
This latest development comes days after the governor 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.
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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.
In response to one amendment that was ultimately withdrawn at Tuesday’s meeting, Stephenson made a commitment to add language to the bill in a future sponsor’s amendment to include playgrounds, athletic fields or other attractions regularly used by minors in the list of places that marijuana businesses could not be located near.
Members also rejected a number of proposed changes, including amendments that would have allowed people to collect signatures to place questions on county, city or township ballots to ban marijuana businesses as well as the use and possession of marijuana within jurisdictions.
Other rejected proposals would have changed the legal age for using and purchasing cannabis from 21 to 25, removed labor peace agreement requirements for marijuana businesses, protected employers from liability for actions of workers who are intoxicated on cannabis, grandfathered in existing hemp and cannabinoid product companies by allowing them to get marijuana business licenses without having to go through the scoring process and required retailers to provide customers with “information about the possible risks and side effects” of using cannabis before making a sale.
Additional failed amendments would have prevented lawmakers and state constitutional officers from serving as the top cannabis regulator or holding a marijuana business license for a period of four years after leaving office and shortened the time of day that cannabis businesses can operate and conduct deliveries to be from 10 AM to 9 PM.
Amendments to allow local governments to reject cannabis events and to limit events to a maximum of 12 hours instead of four days, as well as allowing them to charge cannabis businesses local licensing fees of up to $2,000, were also defeated.
The next stop for the legislation is the House Agriculture Finance and Policy 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.
Here are the other House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks: 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 this 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 earlier this 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.