A marijuana legalization bill cleared another Minnesota Senate committee on Wednesday, bringing the total number of panels in the chamber to advance the legislation so far this session to seven.
The Human Services Committee passed the measure from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in a voice vote.
“This allows adults to safely and responsibly use cannabis,” Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten (D), who presented the bill on behalf of Port, told committee members. “It creates a regulated marketplace that’s much safer than our current underground illicit marketplace.”
“Cannabis prohibition has caused immense harm in our communities, and that’s particularly when it comes to the criminal justice system,” she said. “Black Minnesotans and white Minnesotans consume cannabis at very similar rates, yet Black Minnesotans are five times more likely to be arrested for possessing cannabis. The expungement that we see in this bill is really important to me, because if we’re going to go forward with legalizing cannabis, we really have a responsibility to clear those records.”
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 in short order following the extensive committee consideration.
The governor recently released his biennial budget request, which included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, and made projections about the millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue that his office estimates the state will earn after the reform is enacted.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) discussed his proposal in a recent interview, explaining why he’s calling for a tax rate on marijuana sales that’s nearly double that of the bill that’s advancing in the legislature.
That 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.
The governor has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast last month that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Much of the revised bills that are advancing through committee are 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.
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.
At its Wednesday meeting, the Senate committee adopted several amendments.
One approved change adds a representative of the Local Public Health Association of Minnesota to the Cannabis Advisory Council, requires the health commissioner to collaborate with local health departments in forming a public awareness program about adverse health effects of marijuana for people under 25, directs the health commissioner to distribute grants to local and tribal health departments to support the dissemination of educational materials on cannabis use and adds appropriations provisions to fund such efforts.
Another adopted amendment changes references to pregnant and breastfeeding “women” in the bill to instead refer to “individuals,” as not everyone who can become pregnant identifies as a woman.
An additional change corrects a technical error in the bill concerning a Cannabis Advisory Council seat for a parent or caregiver of a medical cannabis patient.
Members also adopted a technical amendment to allow changes to the medical cannabis program concerning tribes that are being made by another bill to remain intact.
The next stop for the bill is the Senate Labor Committee on Thursday. On the House side, the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee is scheduled to take up that chamber’s companion proposal on the same day.
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.
The House panels that have passed the legislation in recent weeks are the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The Senate committees that have signed off so far are the Health and Human Services Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. (Full Story)