Momentum in Minnesota to legalize cannabis

Under a Democratic trifecta in 2023, the North Star State's end to prohibition appears imminent

The path for Minnesota to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2023 continued to progress this week as legislation advanced through additional House and Senate committees.

Most recently, the Minnesota House Education Committee adopted House File 100 as amended on Feb. 16. That was the ninth committee in the lower chamber to move the legislation forward on its vetting route to the House Floor. The Health Committee is the next stop on Feb. 21.

The legalization proposal would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to 2 ounces of cannabis from licensed adult-use retailers, where an 8% state excise tax will be imposed, according to the bill's text. It would also allow the home-cultivation of up to eight cannabis plants.

Rep. Ron Kresha, the lead Republican on the Education Committee, said during Thursday's hearing that he's "morally opposed" to adult-use legalization.

"Ethnically, I don't think this is the right thing to do," he said, adding that cannabis impairment is detectible in kids. "It's called dropouts and reading levels that are declined-and brain damage. We can detect what impairment does."

Kresha later said, "If there's any committee where this should be stopped, it's the Education Committee."

Rep. Zack Stephenson, a member of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and lead sponsor for H.F. 100, recognized Kresha's reservations as they pertain to legalization's possible impacts on education and children.

"I share the concern," Stephenson said. "But the reality is that the kids are already being impacted by cannabis."

Prohibition isn't working, he said.

"And if prohibition could solve the problems that we are talking about here, it would have already done it," Stephenson said. "It would have done it a long time ago. The idea that we can make this illegal and solve all of these problems, it's not accurate. ... To try and achieve a different result by doing the same thing is madness. We need to do something different."

Perhaps more notable than the momentum in the House, a sixth Minnesota Senate committee-the Committee on Transportation-gave the thumbs up Feb. 13 to Senate File 73. That companion legislation is sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville.

While the former GOP-controlled Senate blocked House-passed legislation last year, the upper chamber flipped to Democratic control in the November 2022 election. Minnesota now has a Democratic trifecta in both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor's office, paving a smoother road to enacting cannabis reform in the state.

"Prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially communities of color," Port said in her opening remarks before the Transportation Committee this week.

"We have an opportunity today to continue the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most effected by prohibition," she said. "Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge."

At the executive level, Gov. Tim Walz recently expressed his support in doing much of the same. He called for an end to prohibition in his 2023 state budget proposal, which outlined a regulatory framework and tax structure for an adult-use cannabis program. Walz also recommended funding for grants to assist individuals entering the legal market, as well as expungements for nonviolent offenses involving cannabis.

Legislatively, the companion bills currently working their way through the state Legislature aim to establish an Office of Cannabis Management for regulatory oversight of a forthcoming adult-use program as well as the state's existing medical cannabis program. In addition, the legislation would establish a cannabis advisory council, require specific studies and reports, and set up a state-wide monitoring system.

The legislation aims to establish plant propagation standards, including certification, testing and labeling requirements for methods used to grow new cannabis plants. Requirements for agricultural best practices and environmental standards are also outlined.

In addition, the legalization proposal would establish 14 licensing categories that include provisions from a social equity program to ensure communities most harmed by prohibition have an opportunity to engage in the industry, Port explained before the Transportation Committee. The social equity program would provide grower grants and invest in a substance use disorder advisory council.

Senate File 73 also provides business development grant programs and sets up an automatic expungement program, as well as an expungement panel for higher-level offenses.

"This bill is comprehensive, to say the least," Port said. "And we will absolutely have changes through this committee process from now until we see it on the floor. We hope that through this process we can work together with each other and with stakeholders to get a final product that works best for Minnesotans."

In addition to a Feb. 21 date for the House Health Committee, H.F. 100 is tentatively scheduled-pending referrals-to appear before the Public Safety Committee on Feb. 23, and the Jobs and Economic Development Committee on March 1.

And S.F. 73 is scheduled to go before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Feb. 21.

Depending on results of Oklahoma's March 7 special election, Minnesota could be the 22nd or 23rd state to legalize adult-use cannabis in the U.S.


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