Another Minnesota House committee approved a bill to legalize marijuana on Thursday, with about a dozen more panels left to go before it reaches the floor.
The House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee passed the measure in a voice vote, with amendments. It now moves to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.
This comes about a week after the bill advanced through the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and Sen. Lindsey Port (D) are sponsoring the legislation, which was first unveiled earlier this month, in their respective chambers. Port said that her companion bill will receive committee consideration in the coming weeks, but no meetings have been scheduled yet.
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.
“Minnesotans are ready for this change,” Stephenson told committee members ahead of the vote. “The current laws are doing more harm than good.”
The legislation 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. That group announced last 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 this month that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Much of the revised bill that’s cleared both committees 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.
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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.
During Thursday’s meeting, members adopted a four-page amendment from the bill sponsor that makes a number of technical changes, including by aligning statutory provisions on medical cannabis qualifying conditions and approved product forms with those that have already been approved administratively by regulators. It also adds limits on cannabigerol potency for cannabis edibles.
The committee also approved a Republican-led amendment to remove a provision from the bill that would have made it so “inactive investigative data relating to violations of statutes or rules” by marijuana businesses are private and nonpublic.
The next step for the bill is the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee.
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.
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 earlier this month 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.