A Minnesota Senate committee held a first hearing on a bill to legalize marijuana on Wednesday as companion legislation continues to advance through the House.
The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee took up the bill from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) and advanced it without a recommendation in a voice vote, marking the first time that a legalization proposal has ever moved in the chamber.
The chair of the committee said at the beginning of the hearing that he and the sponsor have agreed for the bill to return to the panel at a later date before it potentially moves to the floor. Its next step, however, will be the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Thursday.
A bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis and automatically expunge non-felony records is receiving its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The majority of Minnesotans agree: the current cannabis laws in MN are doing more harm than good. It's time to #LegalizeIt.
— Minnesota Senate DFL (@SenateDFL) January 25, 2023
Meanwhile, the House companion measure moved through its third committee on Tuesday, and it’s scheduled to go before another panel on Thursday. There are still several more stops on its path to the floor of that body.
“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” Port said at the hearing on Wednesday.
“We have an opportunity today to start the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been affected by prohibition,” the senator said. “Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge and we are working to ensure that this bill does just that.”
This Senate development comes one day 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.
Port emphasized at the Wednesday hearing that the legalization legislation will go through a thorough vetting in 18 committees and likely be amended and refined “over the next month or so.”
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.
The current legislation 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.
Much of the revised bill that’s advancing through committee is 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.
During Wednesday’s meeting, members adopted an amendment that largely puts the Senate version in line with the current form of the House bill that has been revised by panels in that chamber since its introduction.
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It makes a number of technical changes, including by aligning statutory provisions on medical cannabis qualifying conditions and approved product forms with those that have already been approved administratively by regulators. It also adds limits on cannabigerol potency for cannabis edibles.
The bill also now calls for the inclusion of tribal representatives on a new Cannabis Advisory Council that would be established. And it was revised incorporate a House revision requiring regulators to include a section in an annual report on adverse health effects related to secondhand cannabis exposure and to amend language on certain local zoning requirements.
The Senate committee amendment also temporarily zeroes out monetary appropriations for various agencies to support their efforts to implement legalization, as a fiscal analysis has not been completed for the legislation.
By legalizing adult-use cannabis, expunging criminal records for low-level cannabis offenses, and ensuring a well-regulated market, Minnesota will be on course to joining the growing number of states that have experienced the benefits of safe and legal recreational cannabis.
— Minnesota Senate DFL (@SenateDFL) January 25, 2023
Here are the main components of the revised marijuana legalization bill, SF 73:
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.
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.