Minnesota Cannabis Legalization Bill Heads to the House Floor

Minnesota Cannabis Legalization Bill Heads to the House Floor

After an arduous and, at times, contentious journey through 15 committee hearings, a measure to legalize adult-use marijuana in Minnesota now moves to the House for a vote.

The unofficial holiday celebrating the magic and festive power of cannabis, 4/20, is here. On this day, lovers of the ancient and polarizing cannabis sativa plant raise a joint, brownie or bong in the air and cheer the extraordinary trek marijuana has made from an illicit and villainized narcotic to a legal, regulated, taxed (heavily in some quarters) and much-beloved source of lifesaving pain and anxiety relief for millions of users in the United States and globally.

Since Colorado and Washington became the first to legalize recreational cannabis use in America a decade ago, more than 20 additional states have enacted legislation legalizing adult-use marijuana. In addition, 38 states have medical marijuana programs providing medicine to over 3.6 million patients.

One of the main reasons for the dramatic change in the trajectory of cannabis from criminal contraband to a readily available consumer product is money. So it surprises no one, especially former and current weed dealers, that marijuana is big business. According to Forbes, total annual legal marijuana sales will top $31.8 billion by the end of 2023 and should surpass $50.7 billion by 2028.

Along with generating significant economic opportunities and growth for states where adult-use cannabis is legal, the tax revenue garnered by legal and regulated marijuana markets is a powerful motivator for state legislators and governors seeking substantial and reliable new sources of tax dollars for ailing education, infrastructure and other critical systems in desperate need of funding. Since 2014, The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that states have collected $11.2 billion in tax revenue from legal recreational marijuana sales.

Because of these enticing financial numbers, several states are currently considering measures to establish legal adult-use markets. Minnesota is one of those states eagerly seeking to join the ranks of the legal weed movement, so celebrated on 4/20. Since the beginning of 2023, lawmakers in the Minnesota House and Senate and the Governor have been enthusiastically pushing legislation to establish legal recreational cannabis sales in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes."

According to numerous media outlets, legalization supporters achieved a significant milestone this week when the House version of the bill received approval by the House Ways and Means Committee members via a voice vote. The measure now goes before the entire House for final debate and a vote. The pivotal result comes after an intense and contentious 15-committee hearing odyssey for the bill and its House sponsor, Rep. Zack Stephenson (D).

Stephenson, a state prosecuting lawyer by trade, is primarily motivated by his passion for correcting the wrongs perpetrated by the wildly racially disproportionate enforcement of cannabis criminalization and the crushing fiscal price associated with prohibition.

Following the committee vote, he said, "The policy that we currently have with regard to cannabis is not achieving any of its aims and comes at a great cost to our society. Our current laws are doing more harm than good. Minnesotans want this change. They're ready for it."

"The policy that we currently have with regard to cannabis is not achieving any of its aims and comes at a great cost to our society. Our current laws are doing more harm than good. Minnesotans want this change. They're ready for it."

- Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), House Sponsor of the Bill

There is yet to be a set date for the House to take up debate before a vote on the proposed measure, but supporters are confident it will occur before the end of the legislative session on May 22nd. Likewise, the Senate version of the bill from Sen. Lindsey Port (D), which the Taxes Committee approved in a 6-3 vote on the same day its House counterpart survived its committee gauntlet, still has one more committee stop before it can potentially head to the Senate for a final vote.

During their collective journeys, both bills have undergone dramatic changes to appease concerned parties ranging from Minnesota hemp industry stakeholders to drug treatment community advocates. As a result, the House and Senate versions added amendments, including:

  • Tax dollars for drug recognition expert training and poison control centers
  • A new license category for hemp-based businesses that sell "lower-potency edible products"
  • Reduced regulatory requirements for those licensees
  • Proposed adjustments to tax rates levied on cannabis sales over time

While both measures predominantly align from a content standpoint, a bicameral conference committee will most likely need to convene to reconcile any remaining variances when both chambers meet to discuss and act on their respective versions.

On the surface, Minnesota's effort to join the progressive ranks of those states that have already created legal recreational marijuana markets appears to be nothing but virtuous. However, there is a dark and unsavory side to the machinery behind this marijuana movement. One of the prominent organizations supporting the state effort to legalize adult-use cannabis is MN is Ready.

The advocacy group has exceptionally close ties to this particular piece of legislation. Its current campaign chairman, former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsored a 2021 legalization bill on which both the current House and Senate versions are heavily based. His relationships within the State House and with lawmakers have given MN is Ready access and influence unavailable to other groups interested in and potentially significantly impacted by the proposed measure.

Unfortunately, the ultimate end sought by MN is Ready, and its leadership core has led to racially motivated attacks and defamatory statements by key organization members against business owners of color in the Minnesota hemp industry.

In their blind zeal and single-minded focus to pass marijuana legalization legislation at all costs, MN is Ready's executive leadership group has knowingly and approvingly unleashed their bigoted attack dogs on hard-working, tax-paying and community-oriented entrepreneurs who simply want a fair playing field and equal access to voice their economic and legal concerns over a potential law that could devastate the hemp industry in Minnesota.

Most passionate and innovative individuals in the hemp and legal cannabis industries would welcome legal marijuana in Minnesota. The benefits, financially and from a health and wellness perspective, are exponentially enormous. However, there is no place for racial attacks and old-century bullying tactics to forward a political goal. That is not what Minnesotans are about. That is not what 4/20 is about. And it is most definitely not what 21st-century America is about.