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Minnesota Republican Senators Block Marijuana Legalization Vote



The Minnesota’s Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday blocked Democrats’ move to advance a marijuana legalization bill that’s been stalled in committee.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (D) announced her plans to bring the issue up for consideration on the chamber floor through a procedural mechanism that would have required a supermajority of 41 votes to advance. As was expected, the motion failed to reach that threshold in the GOP-run body.

The process López Franzen sought to use is called recall from committee. The Senate legalization bill was referred to committee in February 2021, but it did not advance. Democrats sought to leverage that process to skip committee consideration and bring it straight to the floor for consideration.

“We all know that legalization would have economic benefits, but there’s other urgent aspects of my legislation,” López Franzen said. “With all the discussion about public safety this year, we also need to address disparities in the criminal justice system around cannabis that disproportionately impact communities of color. That’s why I’m asking to make this urgent motion to bring my bill to the floor.”

“Minnesotans want to have this discussion and conversation about legalization of cannabis,” she said. “They broadly support moving ahead with this legislation. They expect us to debate the merits of this proposal and not block the conversation from happening.”

But the motion was defeated in a 31-33 vote. A House companion version did pass the full chamber last year.

“We’ve seen the benefits of legalization in the states where it’s move forward, and we should join them not just for the economic benefits but also to address disparities in our criminal justice system that have a disproportionate impact of Minnesotans of color,” López Franzen said in a video previewing the plan on Tuesday.

“The people of Minnesota want to have a conversation about legalizing cannabis,” the minority leader said. “Minnesotans today broadly support moving forward with the legalization of cannabis, and at the very least they expect their elected officials to debate the merits of this proposal, not block the conversation from happening.”

Senate Democrats similarly attempted to use the procedural rule to force a vote on abortion and women’s rights earlier this month, without success.

“Over the past two years, I’ve been requesting hearings from members in the majority party multiple times only to have them all rejected,” López Franzen said in a press conference after Wednesday’s cannabis vote. “And today I tried to get the majority party to agree that time is urgent to move this conversation about legalization of cannabis to the Senate floor.”

Back in January, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.

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Winkler said at the time that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”

For his part, Gov. Tim Walz (D) is supportive of marijuana legalization, and he included funding to implement the reform in his annual budget request to lawmakers in January.

While he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his prior budget request, he said this year that he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with the House-passed bill.

Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.

While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.

The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but it does not seem that will happen this year.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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