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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears Second House Committee

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A second Minnesota House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana in the state—though several other panels are expected to take up the legislation over the course of the next few weeks before it reaches the floor.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure earlier this 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 Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee passed the measure in a 7-5 vote. This comes one week after the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee advanced the legislation. It will next head to the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee.

“The fact of the matter is that our laws are the part of this system that don’t work,” Winkler said on Tuesday. “We criminalize responsible adults who use cannabis for their own purposes. We criminalize people who use cannabis for their health benefits. We criminalize veterans who use cannabis as an alternative to opioids. And we criminalize countless African Americans because of their use of a substance that is common.”

“As we look at making updates to the way we treat cannabis and we look at ways to make responsible smart policy choices, we have to make sure that we are actually dealing with cannabis as it is—not as people believe it to be during a period of Reefer Madness in the 20th century,” he said. “Things are not that way.”

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 proposal, 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.

During the latest committee meeting, members approved an amendment that would clarify the process for veterans to qualify for medical cannabis and appropriate funds for job training for the marijuana industry. The bill also underwent other changes during last week’s initial hearing.

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 on Tuesday 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.

Local chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the United Food and Commercial Workers chapter and Sensible Change Minnesota submitted written testimony in favor of the proposal ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and last month 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.

North Dakota House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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