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Minnesota Lawmakers Reveal New Marijuana Legalization Bill

Sponsors for a new bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in Minnesota unveiled the new legislation at a joint news conference this week.

As reported by numerous media outlets this week, legislative leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate announced a revised marijuana legalization bill during a joint news conference at the state capital this week. Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and Sen. Lindsey Port (D) are the bill's co-sponsors, which is very similar to a bill passed in the House in 2021.


The duo was joined by leaders from both chambers and legalization advocates to preview the details of the measure. Stephenson and Port also announced that they already have a hearing scheduled to discuss the new bill in the House Commerce Committee for next Wednesday.


During the gathering, Stephenson said, "Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota. Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves. Our current laws are doing more harm than good."


"Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota. Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves. Our current laws are doing more harm than good."

- Minnesota House Rep. Zack Stephenson (D)


The proposed legislation is a direct iteration of a bill sponsored by former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), currently campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready. That bill passed the House of Representatives in 2021 but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.


What makes lawmakers more hopeful this time around is the unexpected results of the 2022 election. For the first time, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party now controls the House and the Senate. Likewise, Governor Tim Walz (D), an ardent supporter of ending cannabis prohibition, was also re-elected.


While containing much of the same language and content as the Winkler-sponsored measure, there are a few notable changes to this new legislation. One example of those changes concerns the somewhat controversial "lower-potency edible products" legalized by the unique THC amendment to the omnibus spending bill signed into law by Governor Walz earlier this year.


The Stephenson-Port bill adds a new license category for businesses selling lower-potency products. It would also substantially reduce regulatory requirements for those licensees. Additionally, they would be allowed on-site product consumption, provided they have a liquor license.


Here are some of the more significant components of the new bill:


  • Adults 21 and older can purchase up to two ounces of cannabis and grow up to eight plants (four mature).

  • It would promote social equity by ensuring diverse licensing for equity applicants.

  • Provide automatic expungement of prior marijuana records.

  • Retail cannabis sales will have an eight percent tax, with part of that revenue going to fund substance misuse treatment programs and grants to support farmers.

  • It would create a new Office of Cannabis Management responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses.

  • It prohibits synthetic cannabinoids per rules established by the MN Board of Pharmacy last year.


Stephenson added, "I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we've engaged in among the most robust bill development processes of any legislation in the history of the legislature. Our bill will create a safe, relatively well-regulated legal marketplace for Minnesotans to grow, sell and buy cannabis if they choose to do so."


"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we've engaged in among the most robust bill development processes of any legislation in the history of the legislature. Our bill will create a safe, relatively well-regulated legal marketplace for Minnesotans to grow, sell and buy cannabis if they choose to do so."

- Minnesota House Rep. Zack Stephenson (D)


While legalization is the bill's main thrust to the sponsors and supporters of the proposed legislation, a critical feature of the measure is providing benefits to those disproportionately harmed by the previous period of prohibition, specifically minority groups, including the tribal communities of Minnesota. There is also a built-in aspect of the bill to favor "local and small over national and big."


Other lawmakers also point out that one of the main intentions of the proposed measure is to create a stable and safe marketplace for the cannabis industry in Minnesota. It is not to generate funds for other state projects like education, housing, or infrastructure. Aisha Gomez (D), Chairwoman of the House Taxes Committee, explains that the legislation's primary goal is to "address the wrongs of prohibition [and] to bring people out of the illicit market and into a regulated market."


She adds, "Cannabis taxes in our bill are not going to solve any of our social problems. We're not going to use cannabis taxes to fix the education changes that our communities need, build all the affordable housing we need, and fix all the infrastructure we need."


"(The primary goal is to) address the wrongs of prohibition [and] to bring people out of the illicit market and into a regulated market. Cannabis taxes in our bill are not going to solve any of our social problems. We're not going to use cannabis taxes to fix the education changes that our communities need, build all the affordable housing we need, and fix all the infrastructure we need."

- Aisha Gomez (D), Chairwoman of the MN House Taxes Committee


For his part, Governor Walz has already allocated funding in his 2023 budget for the marijuana legalization push and has promised that it "would be done by May." Democratic leaders like House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D), while equally enthusiastic and optimistic, have gone on the record to caution patience concerning how fast the law will change. She recently reiterated that the reform "will take a long time" to move through the legislature. However, she also added that the issue is "a priority," albeit a "very big, complicated (one)."


Regardless of how fast the bill moves through the convoluted legislative process, the Democratic leadership has already delivered on its promise to make the legalization of recreational marijuana a top priority for the 2023 session. Moreover, the introduction of the new bill and the energy surrounding it demonstrates that elected officials have heard the people's will. As a result, there is little doubt that the next few months should be highly eventful for those closely invested in the drive to legalize marijuana in Minnesota.


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