The Minnesota House of Representatives will finally debate and vote on a bill to legalize marijuana on Monday after months of extensive committee consideration.
The legislation from Rep. Zack Stephenson (D)—which has moved through 15 panels this session—is now being taken up on the floor, where members will consider nearly two dozen amendments that have been filed.
Meanwhile, a Senate companion version is heading to its final committee stop on Tuesday before potentially advancing to the floor of that body, which is expected to happen on Friday.
“I do expect that this is the year we get the job done,” Stephenson said at a press briefing ahead of the House session on Monday. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good, and Minnesotans want a cannabis policy that makes sense and adapts to the modern world.”
Watch the House debate the marijuana legalization bill below:
Both the House and Senate 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.
It’s likely that a bicameral conference committee will need to convene to address outstanding differences if the Senate passes its version of the legislation. The legislative session ends on May 22, giving lawmakers a few weeks to pass a finalized product.
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.
Today, the Minnesota House will vote to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older; expunge low-level cannabis convictions; and establish a regulated market that prevents youth access and provides substance abuse support. #mnleg
Read the bill here: https://t.co/4zhkmbDMdf
— Minnesota House DFL Majority (@mnhouseDFL) April 24, 2023
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.
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.
Most of the amendments that have been filed for the House floor on Monday are from GOP lawmakers—with most of those expected to be rejected. Stephenson said earlier in the day, however, that he anticipated at least some Republican proposals would be accepted.
The sponsor filed one amendment before the hearing that would give certain legislative staff priority in adopting police dogs that are retired following legalization.
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.
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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 so far are the 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).
Marijuana legalization seems imminent in Minnesota, pending the House vote, final passage in the Senate and the resolution of outstanding differences, including key tax provisions.
Monday’s House hearing comes 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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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