The Minnesota Senate last week voted to approve a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, only days after the House of Representatives passed a companion adult-use cannabis legalization measure. The bill, Senate File 73, was approved by the Senate on Friday with a vote of 34-33 that saw all senators from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) voting in favor of the bill and all Republicans opposed.
The bill would legalize the possession and use of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older and establish a regulatory framework for the production and sale of recreational marijuana. Adults would be permitted to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis, 8 grams of cannabis concentrates or edibles with up to 800 milligrams of THC. Home cultivation of marijuana would also be allowed, with adults permitted to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home.
DFL Senator Lindsey Port, the lead sponsor of the bill, said that it is time to change Minnesota’s marijuana policy.
“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” she said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.
With the bill, Port said that lawmakers have an “opportunity to undo some of the harm that has been done and create a unique system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses, while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”
Port added that the measure was considered carefully by lawmakers, who made several amendments to the legislation as it worked its way through the legislative process.
“Minnesotans are ready. Attitudes are changing,” she told Minnesota Public Radio. “Now is our time to undo decades of ineffective and damaging prohibition.”
After the bill was passed by the state Senate, Democratic Governor Tim Walz said that he would approve the legislation, which would make Minnesota the 23rd state in the nation to end the prohibition of marijuana.
“Legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging cannabis convictions is good for our economy and the right move for Minnesota,” Walz wrote on Twitter on Friday. “When the bill reaches my desk, I’ll be proud to sign it into law.”
The bill also includes measures to address the harms caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, including a provision to expunge convictions for many marijuana-related offenses. DFL Senator Claire Oumou Verbeten said that the legislation is needed to end the racial disparity repeatedly seen in the enforcement of the nation’s drug laws.
“We owe this to the people who have been impacted the most by this prohibition. It’s our communities of color. It’s Black Minnesotans, especially Black men,” said DFL Senator Claire Oumou Verbeten. “We owe this to them. We can legalize this. We can regulate it. We can expunge,” she said. “Because we have to and because it’s a racial justice issue.”
Minnesota House Also Passes Legalization Bill
Also last week, a companion bill to the Senate measure was passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives, setting the stage for a conference committee to rectify inconsistencies between the two pieces of legislation. After the conference committee resolves differences between the bills, the House and Senate will vote on the final version of the bill.
Key differences between the separate versions of the legislation include a possession limit of two pounds of cannabis in the House bill, while the Senate version allows adults to possess up to five pounds of marijuana, including no more than two pounds from a source other than home cultivation. The Senate bill allows local governments to cap the number of cannabis retailers. The House bill does not include such limits, although both versions do not allow cities and counties to enact an outright ban on dispensaries. Additionally, the Senate version levies a tax on cannabis products of 10%, while the House version sets the tax rate at 8%.
Both bills establish an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee the licensing and regulation of cannabis companies. Ryan Winkler of the MN is Ready coalition, a group that has advocated for the legislation and assisted in its development, said that there could be “a few bumps in the road” as regulations to enact the legislation are drafted by the new agency.
“As we’ve seen in every other marketplace – and I suspect any market where you’re creating a new product and there’s large consumer demand – it’s difficult to match supply and demand initially and there typically is a market shakeout after the initial exuberance happens,” Winkler said. “We’re seeing that in other states as well. There’s been a lot of consolidation of cannabis companies in other states. So we are anticipating the challenges.”
All 33 Senate Republicans voted against the bill, with senators citing concerns over public safety, substance abuse and controlling the illicit marijuana market.
“What we’ve come down to after our analysis is this bill simply isn’t enough – not enough public safety, not enough or not enough for public health,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson. “And our local governments are really, really at the bottom of the stick of this.”