The Minnesota House of Representatives has given final approval to a marijuana legalization bill that was recently completed in a conference committee, sending it to the Senate for one last vote before it hits the governor’s desk.
The legislation passed the chamber in a 73-57 vote on Thursday.
The development comes just two days after the House sponsor, Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), signed off on the 320-page conference report that was processed by non-partisan legislative staff following the final meeting of bicameral negotiators on Tuesday.
“Well, the day has finally arrived,” Stephenson said on the floor. “Today is the day that we are going to vote here in the House for the last time to legalize cannabis and bring the change that many Minnesotans have wanted for a very long time.”
“This is a good bill,” he said. “It’s been a long process to get here.”
— Minnesota House DFL Majority (@mnhouseDFL) May 18, 2023
The Senate is expected to take up the measure imminently, as the legislative session ends on Monday. The governor has pledged to sign the bill when he gets it.
While the House approved the legislation largely along party lines, it did get support from some Republicans.
Rep. Nolan West (R), who was a member of the conference committee, said that “opening up to a legal market will allow these things to be tested and approved.”
“Everything that will be sold when this bill is legal will have to be approved and tested so people know what’s in it,” he said. “It’s more dangerous today without this, just like when people were dying from alcohol with alcohol prohibition. It’s more dangerous to prohibit it.”
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R), who initially opposed the bill when it first came up on the floor for House passage last month, decided to back the final bicameral deal.
“The bill was substantially improved in conference committee,” he said. “While it isn’t perfect, it is better than our current marijuana prohibition laws.”
The original marijuana bill had several problems with it. That is why I voted no.
The bill was substantially improved in conference committee. While it isn’t perfect, it is better than our current marijuana prohibition laws.
I will be voting yes on the conference report.
— Representative Pat Garofalo (R) ⭐️ (@PatGarofalo) May 18, 2023
The reason that members convened for a conference committee was that both the House- and Senate-passed cannabis legalization bills were separately amended over the course of a months-long committee process, so they needed to be unified before receiving final votes.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers point to the achievement on cannabis reform as a direct result of voters putting the party in the majority in both chambers after last year’s election.
“Our current cannabis laws aren’t working for Minnesota,” Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said in a press release after Thursday’s vote. “Criminalizing a product many people think should be available continues a legacy of racial injustice no longer defensible. This sensible legislation addresses racial inequities in our criminal justice system and mitigates risks posed by legalizing the adult use of cannabis. It is time to end prohibition and to move forward with legislation.”
Our current cannabis laws aren't working for Minnesota. This sensible legislation addresses racial inequities in our criminal justice system and mitigates risks posed by legalizing the adult use of cannabis. It is time to end prohibition. https://t.co/WaJmyaub0n
— Melissa Hortman (@melissahortman) May 19, 2023
The legislation that advanced through both chambers is an iteration of the 2021 House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast in January that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
— Senator Lindsey Port (@Lindsey_Port) May 18, 2023
As of August 1, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess in public up to two ounces of cannabis and they would be allowed to cultivate up to eight plants at home, four of which could be mature. People could possess up to two pounds of marijuana in their residences.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
It’s expected to take 12-18 months for licenses to be issued and sales to start. As of March 1, 2025, existing medical cannabis businesses could receive new combination licenses that would allow them to participate in the adult-use market.
Certain marijuana misdemeanor records would also be automatically expunged, with implementation beginning in August. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief to the courts, which will process the expungements. A newly created Cannabis Expungement Board would also consider felony cannabis offenses for relief, including potential sentence reductions for those still incarcerated.
In addition to creating a system of licensed cannabis businesses, municipalities and counties could own and operate government dispensaries.
On-site consumption permits could be approved for events, and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill.
Local governments would not be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location while also limiting the number of cannabis business licenses based on population size.
There would be a gross receipts tax on cannabis sales in the amount of 10 percent, which will be applied in addition to the state’s standard 6.875 percent sales tax.
Eighty percent of revenue would go into the state’s general fund—with some monies earmarked for grants to help cannabis businesses, fund substance misuse treatment efforts and other programs—and 20 percent would go to local governments.
A new Office of Cannabis Management would be established, and it would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. There would be a designated Division of Social Equity.
The legislation would promote social equity, in part by ensuring diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher. 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. People convicted of cannabis offenses, or who have an immediate family member with such a conviction, would also qualify.
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The House bill was vetted by numerous committees before reaching the floor. It passed the Ways and Means Committee, Taxes Committee, Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee (twice).
The Senate committees that signed off on the bill are the Finance Committee, Taxes Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, State and Local Government and Veterans Committee, Labor Committee, Human Services Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Transportation Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee (twice).
Well folks, we did it. The House passed my bill to legalize cannabis in Minnesota (on a bipartisan vote)!
I am so grateful to everyone who has helped to make this happen, but particularly our phenomenal staff.
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 19, 2023
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
A poll released last week found that 64 percent of Minnesota registered voters support creating a regulated marijuana market, including 81 percent of Democrats and a 49 percent plurality of Republicans.
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 last year.
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.
Congrats to the whole House team on passing the adult-use cannabis bill tonight, but special shout out to my friend and House author, @zackstephenson for his incredible work and partnership this year! https://t.co/I0cS2jdQIj
— Senator Lindsey Port (@Lindsey_Port) May 19, 2023
Meanwhile in Minnesota, the House separately passed an omnibus health bill last month that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
And on Tuesday, the legislature approved large-scale legislation that contains provisions to legalize drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, residue and testing—a win for harm reduction advocates in the state.
Correction: This story was updated to clarify details of the bill’s expungements provisions.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.