Minnesota Republican lawmakers say they are “disappointed” with the governor and Democratic leadership for their “unwillingness to address glaring defects” in the state’s newly implemented marijuana legalization law, pointing to what they describe as “loopholes” related to policies affecting youth.
The letter, led by Rep. Peggy Scott (R), says that Gov. Tim Walz (D) and Democrats have so far ignored their request last month to convene a special session to address the problems that they’ve raised, including their concerns with minimal penalties for underage possession.
“In the days since our initial letter, it has become clearer that Minnesota Democrats still do not understand the full implications of the new law—particularly when it comes to keeping kids away from drugs,” Scott and 29 other GOP members wrote.
“In addition to Democrats’ stated intent of decriminalizing marijuana consumption for minors, the legalization bill contains additional dangerous gaps, contradictions, and loopholes as it relates to consumption of marijuana products,” they wrote.
The letter lists the lawmakers’ issues with the legalization law, which took effect last week, making possession and cultivation of cannabis legal for adults 21 and older as the first tribally owned marijuana shops opened ahead of traditional licensees.
They reiterated concerns about the fact that the sponsors intentionally wrote the bill to remove criminal penalties for underage possession of cannabis. They acknowledged updated reporting about the fact that an unrelated statute could theoretically be used to charge youth with a default petty misdemeanor for possessing marijuana—though they said questioning by “outraged parents and community leaders” led to that information, when in fact the statute was identified for journalists by a drug policy reform lobbyist.
“Without reinstatement of clear consequences, law enforcement is left to wonder whether the default penalty statute is a viable avenue for punishing minor consumption—and whether the equivalent of a parking ticket is really a deterrent,” the GOP lawmakers said.
Additionally, they compared the relatively nominal default penalty for cannabis possession to alcohol possession, which is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. This “peculiar disparity” and “preferential treatment of marijuana products in HF 100 may create a legal incentive for minors to use the drug,” the letter says.
While the lawmakers complained about marijuana and alcohol parity issues with respect to possession, they also argued that the penalty for sale of cannabis to a minor should be higher than it is for alcohol.
The legalization law makes sale of marijuana to a minor who is within three years of age of the defendant a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $3,000 fine and up to a year in jail—the same penalty that applies to the sale of alcohol to an underage person. The cannabis law goes further, too, making it so a person could face a maximum $10,000 fine and up to five years in jail for if they’re more than three years older than the minor who purchased the marijuana.
The lawmakers also argued that criminal organizations may “exploit” the law by recruiting underage people to sell marijuana because of reduced penalties for such activity compared to adults. And they also criticized a lack of liability laws for adults who allow youth to use marijuana in their household, noting that such laws are in place for alcohol.
The letter also says that the legalization policy “exacerbated a loophole for marijuana-impaired drivers,” claiming that attorneys are advising people to refuse field sobriety tests if they’re pulled over for suspected intoxication from cannabis.
“We believe in rehabilitation, treatment, and second chances, but HF 100 provides no serious penalties of last resort for illegal possession, consumption, or sale by a minor. And it enables adults to exploit minors or act in a negligent manner toward minor intoxication,” they said. “Reinstating serious penalties will show that our state takes underage consumption seriously and does not tolerate the exploitation of young people for illegal drug trafficking.”
“HF 100 is poorly crafted, inconsistent, and in need of immediate remedy to avoid preventable damage,” the letter concludes. “Please don’t let partisan allegiances get in the way of resolving issues that are important to parents, law enforcement, and community leaders across our state.”
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Meanwhile, although the possession and cultivation of cannabis for adults 21 and older is now legal as of Tuesday, state-licensed retailers aren’t expected to come online until 2024 at earliest. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said last week that he wants to get in on the action, too, and become the “first major politician in America” to have his face on a marijuana brand.
The law also formally created the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which launched last month. It will be the primary regulatory body that will oversee the market and for which the governor is actively seeking an executive director.
Another body that has been instituted is the Cannabis Expungement Board, which will facilitate record sealing for people with eligible marijuana convictions on their records. The review process for eligible cases commenced last week.
Even before Walz signed the reform bill, the state launched a website that serves as a hub for information about the new law. Officials have also already started soliciting vendors to help build a licensing system for recreational marijuana businesses.
A separate Minnesota law also took effect last week that legalizes drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, controlled substances residue and testing.
Also, a Minnesota government psychedelics task force is being built out to prepare the state for the possible legalization of substances like psilocybin and ibogaine. But even though appointments to the panel are behind schedule and it missed a deadline to hold its first meeting by August 1, the lawmaker who championed its creation says he isn’t worried about the delays.
Read the GOP-led letter about Minnesota’s marijuana legalization law below:
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