Top Minnesota lawmakers introduced a bill on Monday that would legalize marijuana in the state.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) filed the legislation, which is also being cosponsored by the House speaker. It 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.
The bill is identical to a proposal the majority leader 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 the legislature, however.
“This bill is ready to go from the Minnesota House,” Winkler said at a press conference on Monday. “Our priorities are to end the black market” and provide a “safe, regulated marketplace.”
The legislation will give “Minnesotans the freedom to make their own decisions on a product that has some challenges, but is relatively safe, especially compared to other products,” he said.
Watch the majority leader talk about his marijuana legalization below:
The majority leader also talked about the need to legalize in a regional context.
“As South Dakota legalizes, the ability for Minnesotans to drive across the border to get cannabis increases significantly,” he said. “If people are willing to drive to Wisconsin go and buy fireworks, they certainly will drive to South Dakota to buy cannabis.”
Under the proposal, 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 also be permitted. 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.
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.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) voiced support for legalizing cannabis days ahead of the new bill’s introduction.
— Melissa Hortman (@melissahortman) January 30, 2021
In a press release, she said it’s “clear that our current cannabis laws aren’t working for Minnesota.”
“Smart, sensible legislation can address racial inequities in our criminal justice system, tackle the harms caused by cannabis, and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.
Rep. Patrick Garofalo (R) voiced support for the legalization proposal, saying in a statement on Monday that lawmakers “of all political parties should work together towards implementing a better regulatory model to address the expensive, inefficient, and unfair prohibition on marijuana.”
“Contrary to what some will say, this is not a partisan issue,” he said. “Many Republicans are interested in reforming these expensive laws.”
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) February 1, 2021
Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR), told Marijuana Moment that the bill “has been a long time coming.”
“We are encouraged to see that the first three authors on the bill include the House majority leader, the speaker of the House, and the chair of the Ways and Means Committee,” she said. “This authorship is the strongest indication of the MN House majority’s commitment to legalization, expungement, and regulation.”
The next step for lawmakers is to hold a series of additional public hearings on the proposal to gather feedback from residents.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and last week he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.
Beyond providing the state with needed tax revenue, he said legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”
“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”
The governor did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however, as his counterparts in some other states have.
Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
The new bill’s sponsor, Winkler, said last month 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.
Minnesotans are asking the #mnleg to safely and responsibly regulate adult-use cannabis. Today at 1pm, DFL lawmakers are introducing legislation shaped by Minnesotans' voices and stories. Watch live video at https://t.co/JyILWB0rmI
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) February 1, 2021
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.
The Republican-controlled Senate remains an obstacle to reform, with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) saying on Monday that his caucus is “focused on the Minnesota Priorities that balance the budget without raising taxes, safely reopen schools and businesses to recover our economy, and support families” and that he “would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority.”
“I am open to looking at additional medicinal uses and a conversation around drug sentencing. My main concerns are the unintended consequences of recreational pot, similar to the concerns we all have about tobacco, drinking, or prescription drug abuse,” Gazelka said. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. We’re just starting to learn about legalization’s adverse effects in other states like Colorado and Washington. There is no reason to rush this in Minnesota without learning more.”
Fatehi of MRMR said that “while the Senate majority’s opposition makes the bill unlikely to pass into law, post-Census redistricting means that the MN Senate is up for reelection—in its entirety—again in 2022.”
“This time, there will be no question in the minds of Minnesotans as to who’s responsible for keeping the state from legalizing cannabis,” she said.
BREAKING: DFL Party lawmakers just introduced a bill to legalize adult use cannabis in Minnesota.
Adults deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis use themselves. It's time we establish a regulatory framework to allow for that. pic.twitter.com/WY8UUz83O9
— Minnesota DFL Party (@MinnesotaDFL) February 1, 2021
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.
Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.
Read the full Minnesota marijuana legalization bill and a summary below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.