The governor of Minnesota has reaffirmed that he will sign a marijuana legalization bill that lawmakers sent to his desk over the weekend, and the state has already launched a website providing information about the new law before it’s even been formally enacted.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) made clear that he intended to sign the legislation prior to its passage in the legislature. After the final votes were taken, he discussed the reform in several interviews over the weekend—and signaled that he plans to sign it at a “big” ceremony just after next week’s Memorial Day holiday.
When the bill reaches my desk, Minnesota will become the 23rd state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) May 22, 2023
Walz also said that former Gov. Jess Ventura, who has long championed legalization and testified about his wife’s use of medical cannabis at committee hearings on the bill this year, will “certainly be invited” to attend the signing ceremony, and “my hope is he’s there.”
While it will likely take the “next year” to license adult-use cannabis businesses and start retail sales, Walz said that he’s pleased that possession, personal cultivation and expungements provisions of the law will take effect at the beginning of August.
“It’s going to take a while. We have to put the regime into place. We’ll have to make sure the licensing stands up,” the governor said at a press briefing on Sunday. “And what we’ve said is—what you’re going to have certainty about is—is that you’re going to know what the product you’re buying is, there’s going to be a regulated, safe environment and we’re going to be able to stand that up.”
“I think the legislature did a smart thing here,” he said, referring to the staged implementation with simple legalization coming into effect in short order while regulators undertake the work of setting up a commercial system. “I think this is what Minnesotans expect. We’ve seen it in other states that it worked. We have the advantage of learning from what they did.”
Walz said that he hasn’t made any decisions about who he will select to lead the regulatory body to oversee the recreational cannabis program, though “there’s some folks who have thrown their hat in the ring” already, “so we’ll take a look at that.”
While that key appointment hasn’t been settled, the state has already taken the step of launching a website for the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which won’t even be officially formed under the legislation under July 1.
The site currently provides basic information about the bill’s provisions for adult consumers and medical cannabis patients, as well as resources for prospective marijuana business licensees and people who may be eligible for expungements.
The cannabis bill passed last night, and look what is already live:https://t.co/VwKpJWVTmf
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 20, 2023
Walz added that he’s “really proud” that indigenous communities in the state will be able to participate in the market and start generating revenue from “a plant that’s been around in their cultures for quite some time.”
In a separate interview with CNN on Sunday, the governor emphasized that the legislation serves a critical public health purpose, in part by providing access to regulated and tested products to prevent contamination with “fentanyl and xylazine and things we’re seeing show up on street cannabis.”
“I trust adults to make their own decisions,” he said. “We certainly believe [ending the] prohibition on cannabis is long overdue, and we’ll get that out there. We’ll have it legally.”
Walz said in another interview with CBS over the weekend that “we know the prohibition didn’t work,” and he’s “proud of the legislature,” adding that Minnesotans “overwhelmingly supported this.”
“We’re going to be working on the expungements to get people back to where they should have been, and then we will set up the infrastructure to make sure that we’re licensing and regulating the dispensaries,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for about four years, talking to people in Vermont and Colorado. We want to make it a smooth transition.”
“But I think the biggest thing is that, on August 1, just making sure we’re not going to spend precious dollars in our policing focusing on possession of cannabis, rather than looking at other crimes we should be working on,” he said. “It just takes a little bit of time. We’ll implement it. We’ll get it in. And I think this is the direction Minnesota wanted us to go.”
Asked whether he thought there would be voter pushback to the reform move and other bills that the Democratic majority enacted this session, the governor said “no,” listing various legislative achievements including cannabis legalization that he said the majority of the public supports.
Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), who sponsored the legalization bill that’s now making its way to the governor’s desk, posted basic information about the state’s legislative process on Saturday—noting that Walz “has three days from when the bill is presented to him (not 3 days from when the bill passes the Legislature).”
“Before bill gets presented to the Gov, it needs to be enrolled. That’s a process managed by the Revisor of Statutes, and involves the Pres of the Senate and the Speaker of the House signing the bill,” he said. “Might take a few days for that to play out, esp bc it’s end of session.”
Before bill gets presented to the Gov, it needs to be enrolled. That’s a process managed by the Revisor of Statutes, and involves the Pres of the Senate and the Speaker of the House signing the bill. Might take a few days for that to play out, esp bc it’s end of session. (2/2)
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 20, 2023
As of August 1, adults 21 and older could purchase and possess in public up to two ounces of cannabis and they would be allowed to cultivate up to eight plants at home, four of which could be mature. People could possess up to two pounds of marijuana in their residences.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
It’s expected to take 12-18 months for licenses to be issued and sales to start. As of March 1, 2025, existing medical cannabis businesses could receive new combination licenses that would allow them to participate in the adult-use market.
Certain marijuana misdemeanor records would also be automatically expunged, with implementation beginning in August. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief to the courts, which will process the expungements. A newly created Cannabis Expungement Board would also consider felony cannabis offenses for relief, including potential sentence reductions for those still incarcerated.
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.
Local governments would not be allowed to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location while also limiting the number of cannabis business licenses based on population size.
There would be a gross receipts tax on cannabis sales in the amount of 10 percent, which will be applied in addition to the state’s standard 6.875 percent sales tax.
Eighty percent of revenue would go into the state’s general fund—with some monies earmarked for grants to help cannabis businesses, fund substance misuse treatment efforts and other programs—and 20 percent would go to local governments.
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.
The legislation would promote social equity, in part by ensuring diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher. 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. People convicted of cannabis offenses, or who have an immediate family member with such a conviction, would also qualify.
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
A poll released this month found that 64 percent of Minnesota registered voters support creating a regulated marijuana market, including 81 percent of Democrats and a 49 percent plurality of Republicans.
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 last 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.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, the House separately passed an omnibus health bill last month that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
And on Friday, the governor signed large-scale legislation that contains provisions to legalize drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, residue and testing—a win for harm reduction advocates in the state.
Correction: This story was updated to clarify details of the bill’s expungements provisions.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.