Minnesota Senators Signal Plans To Advance Marijuana Legalization In 2023 With New Democratic Majority
The prospects of legalizing marijuana in Minnesota improved significantly on Tuesday, with voters flipping the state Senate and giving Democrats majorities in both chambers, while reelecting the pro-reform Democratic governor. On Wednesday, lawmakers from the party said the issue will be among those that the caucus intends to discuss imminently as they decide on legislative priorities for 2023.
Cannabis legalization has passed the House under Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leadership, though the reform has been consistently blocked in the Senate, which in recent years has been controlled by Republicans.
But the political winds have shifted demonstrably in advocates’ favor, with Democrats taking control of the Senate by one seat for the first time since 2014.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, Senate Democrats were asked whether they intended to use their majorities to advance legalization.
Sen. Erin Murphy (D), who led campaign efforts for the party this cycle and could be elected as the new majority leader, said that members “are going to get together for the first time tomorrow to begin to talk about the agenda, but it is important to remember that legalization of cannabis is a popular issue across the state.”
Watch Murphy respond to the legalization question, starting around 29:30 into the video below:
Another senator included marijuana reform in a list of policy issues that align with the party’s policy priorities and which have passed the House only to stall in the GOP Senate. (That part of the discussion starts around 32:00 in the video above.)
The House passed a legalization bill from House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) last year, after it moved through 12 committees on its intensive legislative journey to the floor. It then stalled out in the GOP-controlled Senate. An earlier bipartisan legalization proposal led by Sens. Scott Jensen (R) and Melisa López Franzen (D) in 2019 also did not advance.
Frazen also tried to leverage a legislative procedure earlier this year to bypass the committee process and quickly bring legalization to the floor, but the motion did not receive the required supermajority support to work.
“We are excited about the prospects for full legalization, but Minnesotans who want to see legalization will still have work to do,” Maren Schroeder, coalition director for the MNisReady Coalition, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get it across the finish line in 2023.”
The coalition launched a voter education resource in August in the hopes of activating more voters to make their voices heard and support candidates who back cannabis legalization—an effort that seems to have paid off.
The DFL Party flipped the Minnesota Senate and held both the Minnesota House and Governor's office!
We won a trifecta! Now, we deliver for Minnesotans! pic.twitter.com/Yk8KDyMH8O
— Minnesota DFL Party (@MinnesotaDFL) November 9, 2022
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.
“With yesterday’s elections, Minnesota has moved from a long shot for legalizing in the next couple of years to one of the best prospects,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “Only the Republican majority in the Senate stood in the way. The House already passed a bill in 2021, and Gov. Walz is a vocal supporter.”
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who won his reelection bid on Tuesday against the former senator, Jensen, has pushed for legalizing marijuana in a regulated market, including funding for implementation in his budget proposal this year.
At a separate press conference on Wednesday, Walz reiterated that he is “supportive” of legalizing cannabis and discussed the legislature’s failure to send him a bill on it to date.
“That was simply the Senate stalling on that and not doing anything,” he said. “I would assume now that there may be more of a desire.”
Kurtis Hanna, a co-founder and contracted lobbyist with Minnesota NORML, told Marijuana Moment that GOP senators have made abundantly clear that “Minnesota Republicans would block cannabis legalization legislation so long as they retained power.”
“While a handful of Republicans did vote for adult use cannabis legalization on the Minnesota House floor in 2021, almost none of the GOP candidates on the ballot last night who were in viable races openly supported ending adult use cannabis legalization,” he said.
“With the DFL retaining control of the Governor’s Office and the State House last night, while also flipping the State Senate by one seat, Minnesota cannabis law reform has surmounted the wall the Republicans had erected,” Hanna added. “We at Minnesota NORML couldn’t be happier and look forward to working with the majorities in both chambers to craft and pass adult use cannabis legalization into law in the next few years.”
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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.
Support was up this year from 58 percent when the House Public Information Services polled fair goers on the issue last year. In 2019, the House poll found 56 percent support for legalization.
The governor also signed a bill over the summer that included provisions to provide permanent protections allowing state hemp businesses to legally market certain cannabis products—including foods and beverages infused with CBD and other cannabinoids.
Back in January, Winkler and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.
Winkler said at the time that his bill was the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
Separately, certain Democrats including staff for Winkler have found themselves caught up in a controversy over an alleged (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to change the name of a third party focused on marijuana that some have seen as undercutting Democratic support on the ballot in past cycles to one instead meant to appeal to far-right conservatives in an apparent attempt to siphon votes away from Republicans in the upcoming election.
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.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hoped they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but that didn’t materialize.
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