Both chambers of the Minnesota legislature have appointed bipartisan House and Senate conferees to negotiate a final deal on a marijuana legalization bill that can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.
A total of 10 bicameral negotiators were selected to resolve differences between their companion legalization measures that cleared their respective chambers last week. The members will hold meetings to agree on the provisions of a reconciled bill, then send it to the House and Senate for final floor votes before the legislation can be sent to to Gov. Tim Walz (D).
While both versions would end prohibition and set up a regulated system of marijuana sales in the state, they were amended in different ways throughout an extensive committee process in recent months. One of the key differences that will need to be addressed concerns the tax rate for cannabis sales.
With the legislative session set to end later this month, the plan is to work out those areas of disagreement in short order, and the conferee appointments are the first step to that end.
On the House side, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), was selected as one of the chamber’s five negotiators on Monday. He is joined by Reps. Athena Hollins (D), Jess Hanson (D), Alicia Kozlowski (D) and Nolan West (R).
The House members on the conference committee on my bill to legalize cannabis in MN have been named. This is the team that will get the job done! In addition to myself, they are: @AthenaHollins @JessHansonMN @LiishKozlowski and @West4MN
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 2, 2023
West was among several Republican members to offer amendments during committee consideration and on the floor, including adopted proposals to lower possession limits and increase funding for law enforcement drug recognition expert training.
He ultimately voted in favor of the overall bill, so his participation in the conference could strengthen the bipartisan appeal of the final product.
Kozlowski said in a Tweet on Monday that it’s “time to sign, seal & deliver HF 100!”
“Proud to be on this bipartisan team to legalize cannabis, expunge records, and advance economic justice in a regulated market,” they said.
Time to sign, seal & deliver HF 100! Proud to be on this bipartisan team to legalize cannabis, expunge records, and advance economic justice in a regulated market. https://t.co/ElcgJgCrNk
— MN Rep Alicia Kozlowski (@LiishKozlowski) May 2, 2023
Over in the Senate on Tuesday, another five conferees were appointed, including the sponsor Sen. Lindsey Port (D). The other negotiators from the chamber are: Sens. Clare Oumou Verbeten (D), Erin Murphy (D), Susan Pha (D) and Jordan Rasmusson (R).
Rasmusson is another example of a GOP member who filed amendments throughout the process—at one point securing bipartisan agreement on a proposal to require specific warning label language on cannabis products. That said, unlike Nolan in the House, Rasmusson did not ultimately vote in favor of the bill.
The session ends this month, on May 22, giving lawmakers just a few weeks to reach consensus, hold final votes and get the bill to the governor’s desk.
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), who released an biennial budget request in January that included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, has pledged to sign the legislation when it arrives on his desk.
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.
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 Max Pixel.