Getting a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota to the House floor has been no small task. But after advancing it through 12 committees in recent weeks, the measure’s sponsor, Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), is expecting it to pass with some Republican support on Thursday.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment, Winkler talked about his legislation’s exhaustive path through the committee process and what to expect as it finally heads to the floor for consideration. While he’s confident that the chamber will approve it—especially considering how many members from both parties have already had a chance to submit input and amendments in a dozen panels—its prospects remain uncertain in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Even so, the legalization proposal has generated significant public interest and media attention. And the majority leader says, at the very least, that has boosted support for other, more modest cannabis reform bills.
“By putting this bill front and center and making it such a priority and driving public attention, Republicans are more willing to expand Minnesota’s medical cannabis program to [include a flower option], and they are more open to decriminalizing elements of our current system.”
“I think we are having an effect on them, and they feel the pressure to find a way to act because they know that they are losing this and the public will eventually win and get this,” Winkler said.
For advocates, those incremental reforms would be welcome, of course. But in a year that has already seen several states like New York and Virginia legalize adult-use cannabis, the leader’s bill passing would be the most significant victory.
“This bill is really a product of a two-year process to develop it, identify priorities, concerns, issues, figure out what works and what doesn’t from other states [and] get a huge amount of buy in,” Winkler said. “We continued to improve it all through the whole 12 committee stop process, right right down to the floor session Thursday when more amendments are coming.”
Part of that process has involved soliciting GOP support—and that has meant committees adopting various amendments, including one that would put some cannabis tax revenue toward tax relief for Minnesotans.
“We will get some” Republican support for the bill, Winkler said, but “I don’t know how many.”
In an earlier interview, Winkler suggested that the proposal could actually passed in the Senate—widely considered to be the bill’s largest obstacle this session—if only it could be brought up for a vote. However, it would take time for members of the chamber to review the legislation, and time is of the essence with the session set to end on May 17.
“Cannabis legalization is just very broadly supported, including in the Republican party and by Republican voters. It wouldn’t just be Democrats—it would be a bipartisan vote,” he told Marijuana Moment. “It would probably take some time for them to learn the mechanics of the bill and get comfortable with it, but I think if you actually ran it up through the setup process, it would pass because people want it, senators know it and the current policies don’t work and have significant harms for people.”
Should the Senate decline to take up the legalization bill, placing the issue before voters on the ballot could still be an option—but Winkler said such a proposal would face similar resistance to the reform legislation at hand, as in Minnesota only the legislature itself can refer questions to voters as constitutional amendments.
“I don’t see any prospect for Senate Republicans wanting this on the ballot any more than they would want to pass full legalization,” he said.
For Democrats, he said, the “number one” reason they back the cannabis reform “is because of the ways in which communities of color—but especially black Minnesotans—have been targeted for unfair policing and have been victims of a discriminatory cannabis criminal prohibition model.”
“This is very much at the heart of this broader reckoning on racial inequity, or racial inequality, in Minnesota—and the harms our criminal justice system are doing to black Minnesotans,” he said, citing the case of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer who said he feared for his life after smelling marijuana during a traffic stop.
Asked about his stance on broader proposals to end the drug war—by decriminalizing psychedelics, for example—Winkler said he hasn’t had time to consider such policy changes, adding that marijuana legalization “is a big enough task” for now.
Winkler’s cannabis measure—which was also introduced by Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers—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.
Before being scheduled for floor action, the bill passed the Ways and Means Committee, Taxes Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, 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 legislation, 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.
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 month 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.
Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.
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.
California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs
A California senator sponsoring a bill to legalize possession of psychedelics in the state says the proposal is a step toward eventually decriminalizing all drugs.
“We want to get there,” he said in a recent meeting with activists and researchers, though he added that it’s possible the broader reform would need to be decided by voters.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D) made the comments last week in a chat hosted by the Psychedelic and Entheogen Academic Council (PEAC), discussing next steps for his psychedelics legislation after it passed in the Senate earlier this month. He said advancing the measure in the Assembly will be “very challenging” due to a number of factors, but he sees progress in the legislature.
It’s also unclear where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) stands on the reform, he said—though the governor has long been an outspoken opponent of the war on drugs.
“This is the first time that this idea has ever been introduced in the legislature,” Wiener said. “It’s a brand new idea” that “many of my colleagues have never interacted with.”
The bill originally included record sealing and resentencing provisions for people previously convicted of psychedelics possession offenses, but that language was removed in its last committee stop prior to the Senate floor vote as part of an amendment from the sponsor.
Wiener said the reasoning behind that deletion was that the policy “ended up generating a huge price tag” based on a fiscal analysis, but it could be addressed in separate legislation if the main bill passes.
Since clearing the Senate, SB 519 has been referred to two Assembly committees—Public Safety and Health—but the clock is ticking to move it this session. The senator said it must be heard by the panels by July 15, and then it would go the the Appropriations Committee, which would need to take action by late August.
If all goes well, Wiener told the PEAC members that a floor vote in the Assembly would happen in early September. Should the chamber approve it, the bill would go back to the Senate for concurrence on any amendments (or otherwise go right to Newson’s desk). The governor would need to receive the bill by September 10, and then he would have 30 days to act on it.
Assembly passage is far from a given, however. There are “rivalries” and “tensions” between the two chambers, Wiener said, despite the fact that they’re controlled by the same party.
Colleagues in the same chamber might be more willing to “give you a benefit of the doubt in helping you move forward bills,” he said. What’s more, members in the Assembly go up for reelection more frequently than in the Senate, making them less inclined to back novel legislation like the psychedelics proposal.
The senator said one possible amendment that could be expected in the Assembly would be to remove ketamine from the list of psychedelics that would be included in the reform.
“There are disagreements within the psychedelic world on it,” he said. “It might come out. My view as you keep things in until you have to make a give, and that’s one that we could potentially give on. You don’t want to spontaneously give on things without getting some ability to move the bill forward as a result.”
Mescaline, a psychoactive compound derived from peyote and other cacti, is another controversial psychedelic.
It was specifically excluded from the bill’s reform provisions in peyote-derived form, but the possession of the compound would be allowed if it comes from other plants such as “the Bolivian Torch Cactus, San Pedro Cactus, or Peruvian Torch Cactus.”
That decision on the peyote exclusion was informed by native groups who have strongly pushed back against decriminalizing the cacti for conservationist reasons and because of its sacred value for their communities.
If enacted into law, the bill would remove criminal penalties for possessing or sharing numerous psychedelics—including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine, LSD and MDMA—for adults 21 and older.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
The state Department of Public Health would be required to establish a working group “to study and make recommendations regarding possible regulatory systems that California could adopt to promote safe and equitable access to certain substances in permitted legal contexts.” Those recommendations would be due by January 1, 2024.
For psilocybin specifically, the legislation would repeal provisions in California statute that prohibit the cultivation or transportation of “any spores or mycelium capable of producing mushrooms or other material” that contain the psychoactive ingredient.
But this bill, Wiener emphasized at the beginning of the meeting, is ultimately an incremental step to ending the drug war.
“My view is we should be decriminalizing possession and use of all drugs—and we want to get there,” he said. “This is a step just like cannabis [legalization] was a step. And ultimately we may need to go to the voters for the broader drug decriminalization like Oregon.”
For the time being, however, the senator encouraged PEAC members in San Francisco, where lawmakers are more amenable to psychedelics reform, to reach out to people in other areas of the state to apply pressure on their representatives.
Meanwhile, a group of California activists announced plans earlier this year to put an initiative to legalize the use and retail sale of psilocybin on the state’s 2022 ballot. That group, Decriminalize California, said that it would first work to convince lawmakers to pursue reform and then take the issue directly to the people if the legislature fails to act.
The psychedelics effort in the California legislature, which Wiener first previewed back in November, comes as activists are stepping up the push to enact psychedelics reform locally in cities in the state and across the country. The bill notes those efforts in an explanation of the proposal.
The Northampton, Massachusetts City Council passed a resolution in April to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. It’s the third city in the state to advance the policy change, following Somerville and Cambridge.
These are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread rapidly since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.
In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and more broadly decriminalize possession of all drugs.
The governor of Connecticut signed legislation last week that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Texas lawmakers also recently sent their governor a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill this month that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting last month. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
New Jersey Attorney General Cracks Down On ‘Gift’ Marijuana Schemes Involving Overpriced Snacks
The attorney general of New Jersey on Tuesday sent warning letters to companies that are effectively circumventing the state’s marijuana laws by “gifting” cannabis in exchange for non-marijuana-related purchases such as overpriced cookies, brownies and stickers.
Gifting is lawful between adults 21 and older under New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis law, but a number of businesses are allegedly taking advantage of that policy by giving away “free” cannabis products to those who purchase other items like snacks and baked goods.
No retail marijuana businesses have been licensed since the state enacted recreational legalization earlier this year, which followed voter approval of a reform initiative during the November 2020 election. Licensing regulations still need to be developed before adult-use shops can open.
Have you heard about businesses that “gift” marijuana w/ the purchase of snacks or other items? This isn’t the kind of cannabis business allowed by NJ’s new law. We’re warning these businesses to stop unlawful practices that could undercut the legal market.https://t.co/pYBODk12DY
— AG Gurbir Grewal (@NewJerseyOAG) June 15, 2021
“In legalizing adult-use cannabis in New Jersey, the Legislature made it clear they were creating a regulated market with restrictions on how that market operates,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a press release. “Instead of waiting for those regulations to be established, some vendors have decided to move forward on their own, in ways that the law does not allow.”
“Today we’re making it clear that we will not permit these entities to undermine the regulated cannabis marketplace the Legislature created or to compete unfairly with properly licensed cannabis businesses,” he said.
Four Sky High Munchies, Slumped Kitchen LLC, NJGreenDirect.com LLC and West Winds Wellness were targeted with cease and desist letters, which state that the cannabis gifts that they’re offering appear to be central to their business transactions. The non-cannabis items are generally overpriced, the press release notes.
New Jersey’s legalization law establishes the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to oversee the market and create licensing rules. CRC Chairperson Dianna Houenou said that the division “is committed to establishing a safe marketplace of cannabis products.”
“Those trying to preempt the rules and transfer unregulated and untested marijuana items jeopardize public health and undermine confidence in the forthcoming regulated cannabis industry,” she said.
“We will not allow vendors to misrepresent what they’re selling,” Kaitlin Caruso, acting director of the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “Under our consumer protection laws, vendors are subject to fines and penalties for making false or misleading statements about what they’re selling. We have warned these companies about our concerns, and to stop conduct that could violate our laws.”
New Jersey’s attorney general has been proactive about cannabis reform implementation since the legalization bill was enacted.
The day after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed bills to legalize and decriminalize marijuana, Grewal directed prosecutors to drop cases for cannabis-related offenses and issued separate guidance for police on how to proceed under the updated laws.
The attorney general also encouraged prosecutorial discretion for marijuana cases in earlier memos prior to the bill’s signing.
Texas Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill to modestly expand the state’s limited medical marijuana program on Tuesday.
The legislation adds cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients to legally access cannabis. It also doubles the amount of THC concentration that is allowed, from 0.5 percent to one percent.
As originally passed in the House, the bill would have also included chronic pain as a qualifying condition, but that was removed by the Senate and was not re-added in a conference committee. The House-approved version also increased the THC limit to five percent, but that too was watered down in the Senate.
Abbott has not yet commented on a separate piece of drug policy reform legislation that the legislature also passed to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
Abbott first announced he would sign the cannabis bill in a Twitter post last week.
Veterans could qualify for medical marijuana under new law.
I will sign it.https://t.co/KkoC15Ur66
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) June 11, 2021
Separate bills to reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates, revise the state’s hemp program and broadly decriminalize marijuana possession also advanced this year—but they did not make it over the finish line by the session’s end.
Partly because of those failures, a newly formed progressive coalition that’s being led by two former congressional candidates said last week that it plans to take cannabis and other issues directly to voters by putting reform measures on local ballots across the state.
Abbott did not sign additional legislation to clarify that a positive marijuana test alone is not sufficient criteria for removing a child from their home. But he didn’t veto it, either, and it was enacted without the his signature last month and takes effect on September 1, 2021.