Minnesota House passes legal pot bill, but Republican leader says it won't pass Senate

The historic vote came late Thursday night.
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In a historic vote, the Minnesota House of Representatives has approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana. 

The bill, authored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, was approved by a dozen committees before it went to the House floor for a full vote Thursday night, passing by a 72-61 vote after nearly five hours of debate, with six Republicans in favor and four DFLers against.

But despite raising the hopes among some that this could finally lead to full legalization of marijuana, Republicans have said the bill will be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said Thursday. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color, and especially Black Minnesotans.”

Even though six GOPers voted in favor of it in the House, minority leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said: "We are wasting our time on this marijuana bill that has no chance of becoming law." His motion to table the bill was defeated. 

Other opponents of the bill stated reservations they had with the bill, including the potential for increased driving under the influence and lack of roadside testing.

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it won't go anywhere, per GOP leaders. 

On Thursday, hours before the House voted on the measure, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana.

"The marijuana bill in the Senate is up in smoke. That's not going to happen," Gazelka said, according to KARE 11's John Croman. He did say Republicans would be open to changing some marijuana penalties and expanding medical cannabis but it would not support recreational use of the drug.

Not only are Republicans in the Senate not supportive of the measure, but the regular Legislature Session ends on May 17 and lawmakers still have budget bills to pass.

The Minnesota Republican Party benefited in the most recent elections from the presence of marijuana legalization parties, whose candidates received votes in some crucial swing districts. The GOP was even accused of recruiting legal weed candidates to run against Democrats in parts of the state with the intention of splitting the vote.

The bill to legalize recreational marijuana, if it were to become law, would do two key things:

  • First, adults age 21 and above in Minnesota would be allowed to buy and possess cannabis — up to 2 ounces in public, and up to 10 pounds in their homes.
  • Second, it would expunge the criminal records of people convicted for non-violent offenses involving marijuana. Winkler previously said it would "correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities who have been overpoliced and targeted for marijuana enforcement."

Session Daily breaks down what else the bill would do, from appropriations to tax collection. Read it here

A total of 17 states and the District of Columbia have, in some capacity, legalized recreational marijuana for adults.

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