A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota cleared its sixth House committee on Thursday. A Senate panel hearing on a companion version was also scheduled, but it’s been postponed.
The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee approved the legislation from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) in a voice vote. The bill is now nearly halfway through its expected committee stops in the chamber.
“Minnesotans are ready for this. Our current laws regarding cannabis are doing more harm than good,” Stephenson said in opening remarks to the panel. “Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make their own decisions about cannabis use.”
“We’ll take a very comprehensive approach to cannabis legalization regulation in Minnesota, with the aim of supplanting a currently unregulated illicit marketplace with a safe legal marketplace,” he said.
On the Senate side, the measure is being sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Port (D). It passed through the fourth of 18 committees on Monday. A planned hearing in the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee for Thursday is being pushed back.
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 about a week 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.
At Thursday’s hearing, members approved an amendment to require regulators to “utilize the expertise of an employee of the office who is experienced in agricultural business development” when awarding loan financing grants to farmers under the new CanGrow program.
The committee also defeated amendments to limit people to possessing one pound of marijuana at home rather than five pounds and to require cannabis cultivators to include information on energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions in mandatory plans they must prepare.
Another proposal that was rejected would have made it so cannabis regulators would need to get approval from the commissioner of agriculture when setting plant propagation standards, agricultural best practices and edible cannabinoid product handler endorsements—rather than merely consulting with the official.
The next stop for the legislation is the House Workforce Development Committee on Wednesday.
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: State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, 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.