A top Minnesota lawmaker says a bill to legalize marijuana that has already cleared four House committees will receive a floor vote in the chamber next month.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsor of the reform legislation, said it will move through its remaining committee stops by the end of April, setting the stage for action in the full chamber in May.
“Minnesotans are ready for cannabis, and we will keep pushing until it gets done,” Winkler told Fox 9.
Winkler, Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee was the latest panel to advance the bill last week. Before that, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved the proposal.
Its next stop is the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, though a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
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Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.
After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”
“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.
We’re falling behind a national movement towards progress.
MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that.https://t.co/L7Q8CMmsKs
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) March 31, 2021
He also weighed in on news that the Biden administration had fired certain White House staffers who admitted to prior marijuana use as part of their background check process, saying “this is a pointless move in a country where cannabis legalization is a reality in several states. And by the way—Minnesota should be one of them.”
This is a pointless move in a country where cannabis legalization is a reality in several states.
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) March 31, 2021
The majority leader’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 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 last week 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.
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 Philip Steffan.