A top Minnesota lawmaker says that she expects marijuana legalization to be included in the governor’s forthcoming budget request, though she reiterated that the reform “will take a long time” to move through the legislature.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) told MinnPost that she’s optimistic that there’s enough momentum in her chamber to enact legalization, pointing out that the House has already passed such legislation in a past session and that the Democratic caucus “has gotten more progressive on that issue and not less so.”
“I don’t know about the Minnesota Senate. I would be surprised if they didn’t also have the votes,” she said. “I know that the governor is on board. I would expect it will be in the governor’s budget, which is a massive step forward because it’s his agencies that need to implement the law.”
Gov. Tim Walz (D) included funding for implementing legalization in his executive budget request this year, but lawmakers were unable to enact the policy change. He’s expressed confidence that the issue will move in the upcoming session, especially since the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party won a slim majority in the Senate while retaining its control of the House.
But Walz and Hortman have differing opinions about how quickly legalization can advance, with the governor recently saying it would be done “by May,” while the speaker has made clear she feels it will take longer.
“This is a very time consuming bill. This is not like enshrining reproductive freedom into statute,” Hortman said in the new interview. “This is not something you can do in three weeks. It will take a long time to get the bill through the House and the Senate and for the governor’s team to all have it in a position where it can be done well.”
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Walz, meanwhile, has described the issue as a top priority that he hopes to see advance in the legislature as “one of the first items” to reach his desk in the 2023 session.
It seems likely that the governor will address the reform in his budget request, but it’s unclear if he will go further than simply calling for implementation funding this round by including a comprehensive legislative proposal to enact legalization itself. Marijuana Moment reached out to his office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
Following their election win last month, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue in short order. But the speaker said recently in a separate interview that she felt legalization “may well happen in the next two-year period,” a much broader timeline compared to the governor’s projection.
State Sen. Sen. Nick Frentz (D), an assistant leader in the new DFL Senate majority, said that he believes legalization “will pass this session,” though he agrees with the speaker that “there’s a question of timing.”
The House passed a legalization bill from House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) last year, after it moved through 12 committees on its intensive legislative journey to the floor. It then stalled out in the GOP-controlled Senate. An earlier bipartisan legalization proposal led by Sens. Scott Jensen (R) and Melisa Lopez Franzen (D) in 2019 also did not advance.
Franzen also tried to leverage a legislative procedure earlier this year to bypass the committee process and quickly bring legalization to the floor, but the motion did not receive the required supermajority support to work.
The MNisReady Coalition, meanwhile, is eager to see the issue advance in 2023. The coalition launched a voter education resource in August in the hopes of activating more voters to make their voices heard and support candidates who back cannabis legalization—an effort that seems to have paid off.
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 earlier this 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.
Support was up this year from 58 percent when the House Public Information Services polled fair goers on the issue last year. In 2019, the House poll found 56 percent support for legalization.
The governor also signed a bill over the summer that included provisions to provide permanent protections allowing state hemp businesses to legally market certain cannabis products—including foods and beverages infused with CBD and other cannabinoids.
Back in January, Winkler and Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform in the 2022 session.
Winkler said at the time that his bill was the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hoped they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but that didn’t materialize.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.