A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is heading to a floor vote after clearing its final House committee stop on Monday. And the Senate version has also advanced through its second-to-last panel.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) in a voice vote—marking its last stop before the floor after an extensive journey through 15 panels.
Later on Monday evening, the Senate version from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) was approved by the Taxes Committee in a 6-3 vote. It now has just one more panel to go before it potentially heading to the floor.
“The policy that we currently have with regard to cannabis is not achieving any of its aims and comes at a great cost to our society,” Stephenson said before Monday’s House committee vote. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good.”
The representative also discussed the racially disproportionate enforcement of criminalization and noted the fiscal cost of prohibition.
“I speak from experience. I’m a prosecutor in my day job, and I think we allocate far too many resources to cannabis at the expense of more serious crime,” he said. “Minnesotans want this change. They’re ready for it.”
He added that an amendment that the panel adopted before discussing the overall bill includes appropriations that he’s been promising, including cannabis tax dollars for drug recognition expert training and poison control centers.
The legislation hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action, but supporters expect it will be brought up sometime before lawmakers adjourn for the year on May 22.
Both the Senate and House bills have been amended numerous times throughout this process, with lawmakers working to incorporate public feedback, revise policies around issues like tax structures for the market and tighten up language.
For example, a Senate panel adopted a comprehensive substitute from the sponsor at a prior committee stop in March that is primarily meant to address concerns from industry stakeholders who are operating under a cannabis law enacted last year that legalized low-THC edibles in the state.
The House bill also went through a major revision in committee, with members adopting a series of amendments that make the measures more closely aligned. However, it’s likely that a bicameral conference committee will need to convene to address outstanding differences once the full House and Senate act on their respective versions.
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.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) released his biennial budget request in January, 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 that’s advancing 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.
The governor has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast in January that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
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 all of the newly adopted amendments. For example, they add a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products.”
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.
During Monday’s House committee hearing, members adopted two amendments from the sponsor.
The first would lay out requirements for the awarding of grants to nonprofits through programs created by the bill.
The second would change the tax structure for cannabis products so that from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2027 the rate will be eight percent and thereafter the commissioner of management and budget will adjust the rate every two years so that revenues equal or do not significantly exceed the costs of implementing legalization incurred by various agencies.
The amendment would also specify amounts of appropriations to various government agencies to support their role in implementing legalization, amend rules for substance use treatment, recovery and prevention grants created by the bill and make additional technical changes relating to tribal cannabis programs and other issues.
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On the Senate side, members adopted an amendment to restructure sections of the bill concerning taxes on marijuana— including a provision to keep the tax rate at ten percent consistently, unlike recent changes approved to the House bill, which would readjust the rate over time.
Another new addition to the Senate bill under the amendment, which also differs from the House measure, would create a mechanism to provide funding to counties and cities to account for the local costs of implementing legalization.
The committee also approved a separate amendment that makes various technical changes to defined terms throughout the bill related to cannabis products, testing, food, Indian tribes and other issues.
The House bill is now poised for floor action, while the Senate legislation will head to the Finance Committee before potentially going to the floor.
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.
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The House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks are the Taxes Committee, Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, 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 (twice).
The Senate committees that have signed off so far are the Rules and Administration Committee, State and Local Government and Veterans Committee, Labor Committee, Human Services Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Transportation Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee (twice).
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) had said 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.
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, who recently launched a THC beverage company, told Marijuana Moment 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 last 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 Philip Steffan.