The governor of Minnesota says he expects the state to legalize marijuana “by May.” But the House speaker is tempering those expectations, putting the timeline for reform in the range of sometime in the next two years.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has been especially bullish about legalization since winning reelection during the November election, which also saw the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party take a slim majority in the Senate while retaining its control of the House. He’s previoulsy 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.
“I’d say that by May, Minnesota will have gotten this done,” Walz told Semafor’s David Weigel a the new interview published on Friday. “I did think it would pass sooner, because I thought it was more of a libertarian issue.”
He also spoke about the impact of third-party candidates who pushed a marijuana-focused agenda in past cycles—which some believe was intended to divert Democratic votes. The governor said “Republicans abused that” by putting in “stalking horse candidates with that [marijuana] party label.”
“It cost us the Senate in 2020, and it nearly cost us this time. But I think we’ll pass it. We’ve been very deliberate about this,” Walz, who included funding for legalization implementation in his budget proposal this year, said.
“We brought in folks from Colorado and Vermont, early in our administration. We asked: What would the regulatory regime look like? What would the revenue piece look like? What would the enforcement pieces look like? What about expungement of convictions? We put that into place, we’ve worked for four years to try and get it passed, and the senate Republicans wouldn’t do it.”
He added that the “actual people advocating for legal marijuana were good about it this year,” by urging people to avoid marijuana party candidates and “vote for the Democrats because they want to get this done.”
While Walz is confident that lawmakers will be able to expedite reform in the upcoming legislative session—and Democrats have internally agreed to discuss the issue in short order—House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said recently that this “isn’t something I would see in the near term.”
“It may well happen in the next two-year period,” the speaker, who led a bipartisan legalization effort that passed the House but stalled in the Senate during the last session, told Fox 9. “But we have a lot of things we’re going to be focusing on early and fast.”
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.”
“Our caucus has not had this discussion at any length,” Frentz said. “I would guess there are some members who have some hesitation.”
Republicans also expect to see Democrats move on cannabis reform in the next session, but it remains to be seen how much of an obstacle they may pose in the minority. Cannabis legalization has passed the House under Democratic leadership, though the reform has been consistently blocked in the Senate, which until now has been controlled by the GOP.
“I do know there is a strong desire to see it done by the DFL,” Sen. Zach Duckworth (R) said. “They’ve got the ability to do it. I would be very surprised if they did not pursue it.”
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 Lopez Franzen 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.
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.
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Back in January, Winkler and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this 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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