Democrats in Minnesota again introduced a bill Monday that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, and other DFLers reintroduced a proposal to legalize cannabis for recreational use, which they say would help address criminal justice inequities and let police focus on more serious issues. (They introduced similar legislation in May 2020.)
“The failed criminalization of cannabis has resulted in a legacy of racial injustice that can no longer go unaddressed,” Winkler, the bill's chief sponsor, said in a statement Monday. “Adults deserve the freedom to decide whether to use cannabis, and our state government should play an important role in addressing legitimate concerns around youth access, public health, and road safety. Veterans and Minnesotans with serious illnesses like PTSD deserve better access to our medical program, which is not working well for most people. It’s time to legalize, expunge, and regulate.”
The bill would create a regulatory structure that's focused on micro-businesses and a craft market that would require testing and labeling of products, restrict packaging based on dosage size and allow limited abilities to grow cannabis plants at home, the DFL announced.
It would also expunge most marijuana-related convictions; fund public health awareness, youth access prevention and substance-abuse treatment; and provide grants and technical assistance and training for small businesses.
“The legalization of adult use-cannabis will result in health, economic, criminal justice, and civil rights benefits for Minnesotans, benefits already experienced by those in other states that have eliminated the criminal prohibition,” Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said in a statement. “Minnesotans, especially those from Black, Indigenous, and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted will have an opportunity to live better lives and contribute to society by participating in the workforce. People have made their voices clear across the state, and it’s time to end our current harmful policies on cannabis.”
At least 15 states – even South Dakota – and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, while dozens more including Minnesota have legalized it for medical purposes.
And the push to legalize weed in Minnesota has been gaining momentum in recent months among Democrats who control the state House, and is supported by House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
"It's clear that our current cannabis laws aren't working for Minnesota," Hortman said in a statement. "Smart, sensible legislation can address racial inequities in our criminal justice system, tackle the harms caused by cannabis, and ensure better outcomes for communities."
The measure, though, is expected to face some opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Top GOP lawmakers, including Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, have opposed legalization efforts after several efforts in recent years. In the 2019 legislative session, cannabis legalization failed in a Republican-controlled Senate committee.
But House Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he and other Republicans do support legalizing recreational marijuana.
“Members of all political parties should work together towards implementing a better regulatory model to address the expensive, inefficient, and unfair prohibition on marijuana,” Garofalo said in a statement. “Contrary to what some will say, this is not a partisan issue. Many Republicans are interested in reforming these expensive laws.
"Reasonable people may disagree on the best way to fix our broken system, but nobody can responsibly defend the status quo. I look forward to engaging with stakeholders in the substance abuse recovery community as well as both DFL and GOP legislators on this important conversation," Garofalo added. "Working together, we can find common ground on this issue.”
The bill was introduced in the House on Monday and referred to the House Committee on Commerce Finance and Policy. Next up will be some public hearings, where Minnesotans can share their thoughts on the proposal. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
You can read the full text of the bill here. There is not yet a companion bill in the Senate, but Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, supports such legislation.
“I remain committed to supporting a path forward for a responsible framework to legalize cannabis in our state. For too long we have turned a blind eye to the effects that prohibition has had on many of our communities of color,” Franzen said in a statement. “As more states continue to remove barriers to embark in this industry, Minnesota must not be left behind. We should lead the way toward ensuring public health and safety considerations are at the forefront of any legislation.”