The Minnesota Senate has finally approved a bill to legalize marijuana that advanced through 13 committees, setting the stage for a conference with the House to resolve differences with a companion reform measure that the chamber passed on Tuesday.
The Senate passed the legislation from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in a 34-33 vote on Friday. This comes just two days after the proposal cleared its final committee, with amendments.
“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” Port said on the floor. “We have an opportunity today to vote green to undo some of the harm that has been done and create a unique system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses, while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”
“Our main goals are to legalize regulate and expunge, and this bill does just that,” she said. “Carrying this bill for our caucus has been an incredible honor.”
It’s not clear when bicameral conference committee negotiators will be appointed to settle the differences and move for final passage in each chamber—but the session ends on May 22, giving lawmakers just a few weeks to get the bill to the governor’s desk.
During its last committee stop, senators took a procedural step to use the House-passed bill as the vehicle to consider legalization in the Senate from this point forward, rather than sending the original bill to the floor of the body—though the legislation has now been amended with the Senate’s language.
Both bills have been amended numerous times throughout this process, with lawmakers working to incorporate public feedback, revise policies around issues like tax structures for the market and tighten up language.
For example, a Senate panel adopted a comprehensive substitute from the sponsor at a committee stop in March that is primarily meant to address concerns from industry stakeholders who are operating under a cannabis law enacted last year that legalized low-THC edibles in the state. The House bill also went through a similar major revisions in committee.
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.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) released his biennial budget request in January, which included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, and made projections about the millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue that his office estimates the state will earn after the reform is enacted.
Legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging cannabis convictions is good for our economy and the right move for Minnesota.
When the bill reaches my desk, I’ll be proud to sign it into law.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) April 28, 2023
The legislation that’s advancing 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.
Senators on Friday approved several amendments to the bill, including proposals to increase funding for the State Patrol to support drug recognition experts and to increase funding for substance use treatment, recovery and prevention grants.
Another adopted amendment will allow local governments to limit the number of cannabis business licenses based on population size and to place restrictions on hours of sale, noise, odor and location.
An additional amendment added to the bill makes technical fixes to dates and to provisions on loan programs created by the legislation.
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 municipalities 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.
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.
The Senate on Friday rejected a floor amendment that would have increased the initial tax rate for marijuana sales to 12 percent instead of 10 percent and raised it by 1 percent each year starting in 2028 until it reached 20 percent—while also increasing the share of revenue directed to local governments.
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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).
These Minnesota developments come days after Delaware’s governor announced that he would allow a pair of cannabis legalization and sales bill to become law without his signature.
In Minnesota, lawmakers and the governor have expressed optimism about the prospects of legalization this session, especially with Democrats newly in control of both chambers, whereas last session they only had a House majority.
Congratulations to my friend and partner @Lindsey_Port on passing our bill to legalize cannabis off of the floor of the Minnesota Senate. A historic moment! Now we move to conference committee.
We're going to get this done!
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) April 28, 2023
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
It appears that House Speaker Melissa Hortman’s (D) prediction at the beginning of the session that it would take “a long time,” potentially up until next year, to enact legalization., did not come to pass.
Walz’s timeline is proving more on-point, as he said late last year that it would be done “by May.”
Winkler, who recently launched a THC beverage company, previously told Marijuana Moment that he agreed with the governor, saying “it is likely that [passing legalization] will be done by May.”
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.
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.