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Marijuana legalization passes in House, heads to Senate

Minnesota Lawyer//April 26, 2023

Zack Stephenson stands and gestures while speaking into microphones on stands at a news conference

Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, speaks in support of a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota at a news conference on Monday in St. Paul. (AP Photo: Trisha Ahmed)

Marijuana legalization passes in House, heads to Senate

Minnesota Lawyer//April 26, 2023

The Minnesota House of Representatives has passed a bill to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in Minnesota.

The House passed the bill 71-59, as amended, when it reconvened Tuesday after members halted discussion late Monday. Its next stop is the Senate, which plans to consider its own version of the  legislation Friday.

“Today is a big day because we are now at the five-yard line” for legalizing cannabis, the lead author, Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, said at a news conference ahead of Monday’s debate.

The bill has an emphasis on social equity, Stephenson said, and the overall focus is to make sure that people who have been harmed most by previous marijuana laws would benefit most through jobs and opportunities in the new, legal cannabis market.

Across the country, Black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately burdened by state convictions for marijuana-related offenses.

Republican Rep. Nolan West, of Blaine, said at a separate news conference that he planned to vote in support of the bill because Stephenson had worked closely with him to address his concerns.

Still, West said he disagreed with the bill’s “far-left ideology.” He called it anti-business because he said its licensing requirements would prioritize “social equity scores” over the effectiveness of a business model. He said he hopes to serve on the conference committee that will shape the final version.

But Republican Rep. Kristin Robbins, of Maple Grove, said she would vote against the bill, arguing that it does not adequately address addiction problems and public safety risks, nor does it allow for local control of marijuana sales and licensing.

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of the MN is Ready coalition of pro-legalization groups, said in an interview that she expects all Senate Democrats will vote yes when it comes up in their chamber Friday. “We hope for a bipartisan vote, but we’re not certain that will be the case,” she said.

If versions of the proposal pass both chambers, a conference committee will then resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions. Both chambers would then have to sign off on the final version before sending it to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign it into law.

At least 21 other states have passed laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults.

According to the Session Daily on the Minnesota House website, the House bill would permit a person age 21 or older to:

  • Possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower in a public place or 1.5 pounds in a person’s residence.
  • Possess or transport no more than 8 grams of adult-use cannabis concentrate.
  • Possess or transport edible products infused with up to 800 milligrams of THC.
  • Give away cannabis flower and cannabinoid products in an amount that is legal for a person to possess in public.
  • Use cannabis flower and cannabinoid products in private areas.
  • Cultivate up to eight cannabis plants, of which four or fewer may be mature, flowering plants.

The bill would make significant changes in many parts of Minnesota law by:

  • Creating more than a dozen types of licenses for growing, selling, transporting and testing cannabis.
  • Creating an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate cannabis and take enforcement actions.
  • Taxing cannabis retail sales at 8%, in addition to any already imposed local or state taxes.
  • Creating and funding programs to combat cannabis abuse.
  • Creating grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market.
  • Eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis possession.
  • Expunging the criminal records of people previously convicted of low-level cannabis offenses.

There would be several legal limits on marijuana use, and civil penalties for violating those limits.

Adults would be prohibited from using cannabis in state correctional facilities, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis, giving cannabis to a person under the age of 21, or giving cannabis as a promotional gift.

This article includes reporting by the Associated Press and Session Daily on the House website.

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