As a new poll shows strong majority support for legalization in Minnesota, bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers held their first conference committee meeting on Friday, resolving mostly modest differences between marijuana legalization bills that passed the House and Senate last month, while leaving larger distinctions on issues like tax policy for another day.
Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), sponsor of the House version, announced the meeting on Wednesday, saying legislators “are making great progress” in informal discussions ahead of the meeting. He and Sen. Lindsey Port (D), the Senate bill sponsor, are “excited to finish the job,” he said.
At Friday’s panel session, members reached an agreement on several articles of the bill and also adopted mostly technical amendments concerning the legislation’s definition of marijuana and temporary regulations on hemp-derived cannabinoid products.
Today the conference committee on HF100 adopted four articles of the bill. They were:
Article 3 – Economic Development
Article 6 – Misc Provisions
Article 7 – Temporary Regulations
Article 8 – Scheduling
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 12, 2023
“Minnesotans want cannabis to be legalized. Minnesotans are ready for this change,” Stephenson said. “Our laws are doing more harm than good. And every day we leave them in place, more harm is done, so we are going to deliver this bill for the people of Minnesota this year.”
While the bills were identical as introduced earlier this session, both went through an extensive committee process in their respective chambers, with lawmakers making various amendments along the way.
After they were separately approved on the House and Senate floors, bipartisan legislators, including the sponsors, were selected as negotiators to hash out differences and reach an agreement on a final product.
The measures as passed by each chamber ended up still fundamentally the same, proposing to legalize marijuana and regulate an adult-use market, but there are key differences that will need to be settled in conference, including reaching a deal on the tax rate for cannabis as well as on issues like possession limits and local control.
The legislative session closes out in a matter of days, though, so negotiators will need to move relatively quickly. It’s not clear how many times the bicameral committee will need to convene in order to reach an agreement, though Stephenson said that Friday’s discussion marked the “first of what I imagine will be a handful of meetings of this conference.”
At the meeting, members worked articles 3, 6, 7 and 8 of the bill—with the panel largely opting to accept House versions of most provisions, including by using the term “artificial” instead of “synthetic” cannabinoids throughout the legislation.
There was discussion of ensuring that the CanStartup grant program established under the legislation will focus on supporting microbusinesses, tracking trends in hospital-treated cannabis poisonings and targeting public education programs to adults up to age 25, rather than 21.
“We will work expeditiously to close additional articles in this committee in the coming days,” Stephenson said. “We don’t have a specific plan for when our next meeting is at this moment, but…we are certainly well-aware of the constitutional deadline that’s approaching.”
Article 7 governs how the low dose edibles we legalized last year will be regulated in the time between when the bill passes and the new Office of Cannabis Management is fully operational.
Article 8 reschedules cannabis.
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 12, 2023
He also noted that the House is moving to adjourn early on Thursday, May 18, rather than on the May 22 date mandated in state law, giving lawmakers fewer days to complete their work.
Sen. Jordan Rasmusson (R), one of two Republicans who were appointed as negotiators, said that if the conference is unable to arrive at a final agreement on the bill before the session ends, the panel could retain its report and take the issue back up next year.
Stephenson quickly shut that possibility down, however, saying he “strongly” disagrees with the “idea that we would not finish this bill this year.”
“It is my expectation, intention, desire that this bill will be on the governor’s desk before the end of this legislative session. And I expect to deliver on that promise,” he said, adding that a poll released on Thursday underscores the urgency of action.
That survey from KSTP-TV/SurveyUSA 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.
Support for legal cannabis is strong (64%!) and broad– almost every demographic group tested supports legal cannabis. Only one I spot that is net opposed is "very conservative" voters. https://t.co/0iZyVPqqYd
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 12, 2023
Once the conference committee comes up with a final product, the revised bill will need to go back for votes in both chambers before it’s sent to the governor.
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who released an biennial budget request in January that included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, has already pledged to sign the legislation when he receives it.
With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials have been expressing confidence that legalization will be enacted this year.
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.
The governor 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.
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.
The House bill would allow people to possess up to 1.5 pounds in a private dwelling, while the Senate bill would let people have up to five pounds of self-cultivated cannabis at home and up to two pounds derived from any other source.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief and process the expungements.
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 be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location of those businesses. The Senate bill contains a provision that would allow local governments to limit the number of cannabis business licenses based on population size.
Under the House bill, cannabis sales would be taxed at eight percent—and thereafter, the commissioner of management and budget would adjust the rate every two years so that revenues equal, or do not significantly exceed, the costs of implementing legalization incurred by various agencies. The Senate bill calls for a 10 percent tax rate on marijuana sales that would not change over time.
Part of the tax revenue would fund substance misuse treatment programs, as well as grants to support farmers.
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, and the House bill says that 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 have 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).
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
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.
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.
The large-scale Senate legislation was amended in the House earlier this month to include language from a standalone psychedelics measure sponsored by Rep. Andy Smith (D). The proposal is expected to move to a bicameral conference committee, where members will reconcile differences between the House and Senate proposals.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.