Minnesota lawmakers approved a marijuana legalization bill, with a series of amendments, in a House committee on Wednesday.
It’s the first of what’s expected to be many committee stops for the legislation, which builds on a reform measure that passed the full House in 2021. With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials are confident that legalization will be enacted sooner than later.
The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved several amendments to the legislation, which was unveiled last week. The revised bill then passed the panel, which is chaired by the sponsor Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), in a voice vote.
Sen. Lindsey Port (D), who is sponsoring the companion version of the bill in her chamber, said recently that it would also receive committee consideration in that chamber in the coming weeks. In the House, the next stop is the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.
“Minnesotans are ready. Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota,” Stephenson said at the opening of the hearing. “Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves. Our current laws are doing more harm than good.”
“Our bill will create a safe, well-regulated, legal marketplace where Minnesotans can grow, sell and buy cannabis if they choose to do so,” he added. “It includes best practices for consumer protection, health and public safety. And critically, it includes robust expungement programs so that people—and we should be clear that it is disproportionately people of color—who have been caught in the criminal justice system due to cannabis offenses are able to move on with their lives.”
The legislation is an iteration of the House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready. That group announced this month that it would be lobbying for the measure while leading a grassroots effort to build support for reform.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast last week that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Much of the revised bill that cleared committee is consistent with Winkler’s legislation, though there are a few key changes, in addition to the newly adopted amendments. For example, it adds a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products” under Minnesota’s unique THC law that the governor signed last year.
There would also be reduced regulatory requirements for those licensees, and they’d be able to permit on-site consumption if they have a liquor license, which is meant to ensure that shops currently selling low-THC beverages and edibles don’t face disruption.
The bill was further amended on Tuesday to include tribal representatives on a new Cannabis Advisory Council that would be established and add a packaging requirement on cannabis products to warn about consumption by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Today’s #mnhouse Commerce Finance and Policy Committee hearing on marijuana legalization bill, HF100 — LIVE now on HTV1
▶️ Stream it on the House website https://t.co/zZ2uilvH36 and YouTube https://t.co/NZRGWXRDyh#mnleg pic.twitter.com/Ucn53Fo2D5
— MNHouseInfo (@MNHouseInfo) January 11, 2023
Lawmakers also approved amendments to require regulators include a section in an annual report on adverse health effects related to secondhand cannabis exposure and revise language on certain local zoning requirements.
Members rejected a number of other amendments, including one that would have allowed private events to ban marijuana, clarified that banks and credit unions aren’t mandated to work with cannabis businesses and permitted regulators to revoke licenses for businesses that failed to pay property taxes.
The committee also rejected what would have been a major change to the legislation: an amendment that would have made it so local governments, rather than the state, would be responsible for licensing retailers, microbusinesses, lower potency edible retailers and medical cannabis retailers. The state would have still been in charge of licensing cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale, transporter, testing, event organizer and delivery businesses under the proposal.
Here are the main components of the revised marijuana legalization bill, HF 100, as approved by the committee:
Adults 21 and older could purchase up to two ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
They could possess up to two ounces in a public place and up to five pounds in a private dwelling.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
It would promote social equity, in part by ensuring that diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher.
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.
Unlike in many legal states, 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.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at eight percent. Part of that 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.
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.
The legislation as revised fixes an issue in current statute that prohibits liquor stores from selling THC products.
It also contains language banning synthetic cannabinoids, which is consistent with Board of Pharmacy rules put into place last year.
“HF 100 is a viable path toward responsibly legalizing marijuana use and possession for Minnesota adults,” ACLU of Minnesota said in written testimony. “It has strong provisions that don’t simply replace marijuana prohibition with onerous fines and fees that can disproportionately affect marginalized families. It also provides clemency or resentencing for certain marijuana convictions and expungement of past marijuana convictions.”
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) also voiced support for the legislation, writing that members “welcome the regulations and safeguards for consumers included in this adult-use cannabis proposal.”
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The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) and the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association (MSA) submitted testimony “strongly” opposing the reform measure. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns about efforts to “prematurely legalize” and recommended that lawmakers simply form a task force to study the issue.
Lawmakers and the governor have expressed optimism about the prospects of legalization in the upcoming 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 in short order.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said recently that she expects cannabis reform 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.
While marijuana reform was excluded from a list of legislative priorities that Democrats unveiled this month, Hortman said that the issue is “a priority,” albeit a “very big, complicated.”
The governor included funding for implementing legalization in his last executive budget request, but lawmakers were unable to enact the policy change. He and Hortman have differing opinions about how quickly the issue can advance this session, however, with Walz recently saying it would be done “by May” and the speaker indicating it could take until next year.
Winkler told Marijuana Moment last week that he agrees with the governor, saying “it is likely that [passing legalization] will be done by May.”
“The reason is that the legislature adjourns until next year at the end of May, and so if they don’t do it in that timeline, it’ll take another full year—and I don’t think anything will be improved or bettered by waiting,” he said. “So it’s in everyone’s interest to get this bill passed.”
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 in 2021. In 2019, the House poll found 56 percent support for legalization.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.