The governor of Minnesota is calling on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, circulating an email blast on Friday that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
With the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in control of the House, Senate and governorship following last year’s election, cannabis legalization has become an especially hot topic in Minnesota, with legislators gearing up to advance the issue with Gov. Tim Walz’s (D) proactive support.
On Thursday, lawmakers unveiled a revised legalization bill, which builds on a reform bill that passed the House after going through upwards of a dozen committees in 2021. Former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) championed that legislation, and he’s now serving as chairman of an advocacy coalition focused on cannabis reform.
Walz, meanwhile, has been pushing the legislature to move ahead with legalization—and he’s leveraging the recent momentum to build additional support as lawmakers prepare to enact the policy change.
As part of that effort, the governor sent out an email blast that begins by saying that “Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good.”
“It’s time for us to follow common sense and harness the proven benefits of legalizing adult-use cannabis—from expanding our economy, improving our criminal justice system, creating good-paying jobs across our state, and creating more space for law enforcement to focus on violent crime,” the email says.
Walz’s message mentions the newly unveiled legalization bill that’s being sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in their respective chambers. It then directs people to sign an online petition if they agree that “Minnesotans deserve the freedom to make responsible decisions about cannabis use themselves.”
The email and petition, of course, also serve a campaign fundraising goal of generating contact information from potential donors. But it’s also another signal that the governor sees opportunity to finally end prohibition in Minnesota with the Democratic majorities in place.
Winkler told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Friday that the governor’s early and proactive support is “critically important” to this process, and advocates have a “high degree of confidence” that “this bill is something he is ready to sign.”
“Obviously, that’s all subject to change and revision,” he said. “But as a baseline product, we are ready to go in the House and Senate, and with the governor, because of the work that was done.”
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) January 6, 2023
The new reform bill is already scheduled for a Wednesday hearing in the House Commerce Committee, which the measure’s sponsor Stephenson chairs. The expectation is that it will move through a multitude of committee stops before reaching the floor, as was the case for Winkler’s earlier version that ultimately stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Much of the revised bill is consistent with Winkler’s legislation, though there are a few key changes. 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.
“I think the three years of work that went into passing House File 600 in 2021 makes it possible to get this done in 2023,” Winkler told Marijuana Moment. “With a new majority in the state Senate and the need to address a budget in a short amount of time, I think it would not be possible to pass cannabis legalization” without laying that groundwork.
Here are the main components of the revised marijuana legalization bill:
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.
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Lawmakers and the governor have expressed optimism about the prospects of legalization in the upcoming session, especially with Democrats in control of both chambers.
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 on Tuesday, 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.”
Winkler, for his part, said that he does think “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.”
“There’s a lot of work to be done before implementation, and I think waiting another year only makes people feel more anxiety about his ultimate passage and doesn’t help anything,” he said.
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.
Read the full text of the governor’s marijuana legalization email blast below:
Hi [FIRST NAME]
Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good.
It’s time for us to follow common sense and harness the proven benefits of legalizing adult-use cannabis—from expanding our economy, improving our criminal justice system, creating good-paying jobs across our state, and creating more space for law enforcement to focus on violent crime.
That’s why Lt. Governor Flanagan and I are calling on the legislature to fund the safe and responsible legalization of adult-use cannabis in Minnesota. Just yesterday, DFL legislators introduced legislation to get it done, and I’m asking you to help us keep the pressure on.
Add your name to send the unmistakable message that Minnesota is ready to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis conviction:
This legislation would give us the tools to tax and regulate adult-use cannabis in Minnesota, improve our existing medical cannabis program, offer grants to promote equity and fairness in the legal cannabis market, and fund a statewide education campaign to promote safe consumption.
[FIRST NAME], if there’s any state that can do this right, it’s Minnesota. There’s no reason for us to get left behind.
If you agree that Minnesotans deserve the freedom to make responsible decisions about cannabis use themselves, click here to sign on and make your voice heard: Legalize adult-use cannabis.
Let’s get this to my desk. I’m ready to sign it.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.