A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota cleared a fourth House committee on Wednesday, bringing it another step closer to a floor vote in the chamber.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure last month. 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.
The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee heard testimony from advocates and industry stakeholders, and members put a number of questions to Winkler. Lawmakers voted 8-5 to advance the legislation.
This comes three weeks after the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill. Previously, it’s moved through the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee as well.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the panel approved an amendment that refines the definition of hemp and lays out the process that regulators would follow if they suspect that marijuana products are being distributed in violation of the statute.
“Legalization of adult-use cannabis is coming to Minnesota one time or another,” Winkler said. “The question is not whether we are able to stop the trend. The question is whether we are well-prepared to do this right from the beginning.”
“We’ve heard consistently that a cannabis marketplace is an opportunity for small- and medium-sized Minnesota businesses to be successful, to create jobs and opportunity throughout Minnesota,” he said. “And we want to make sure that people who have been most adversely affected by the war on drugs have an opportunity not only to have criminal records expunged and to have their records cleared, but to have an opportunity to participate in the growth of a new business at the very foundation.”
The legislation next heads to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.
Winkler’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. The majority leader, 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 bill, 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.
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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 last week 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.
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 Brian Shamblen.