The bill has now moved through three House Committees and its first Senate Committee, on its way to a potential vote in both chambers of the State House.
For the first time in the history of the Minnesota State Senate, a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana was sent before a committee to be reviewed and voted on by committee members. According to Marijuana Moment, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee took up the bill authored by Senator Lindsey Port (D) on Wednesday.
It was quickly advanced through a voice vote without a recommendation, marking the first time a cannabis legalization measure has ever moved in the Senate. The next stop for the potentially historic legislation is the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Thursday.
While Senator Port’s bill has just begun its legislative journey, its counterpart bill in the House, crafted by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), was approved by a third House committee on Tuesday as well. The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee passed the bill on to its next committee stop through a voice vote.
During the committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Port said, “The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color. We have an opportunity today to start the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been affected by prohibition.”
"The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color. We have an opportunity today to start the process to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been affected by prohibition.”
- MN State Senator Lindsey Port (D)
The Senate hearing on Port’s legislation came just one day after the release of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s biennial budget request. That budgetary proposal includes funding for implementing cannabis legalization along with expungements. It also provided projections concerning the millions of dollars of cannabis tax revenue estimates for the state should the statute be ratified.
At the hearing, Port also emphasized the rigorous vetting process her bill will go through over the next month or so. The measure is expected to be thoroughly analyzed, amended and refined as it travels through 18 Senatorial committees on its way hopefully to the Senate floor for a vote in early Spring.
Much like Rep. Stephenson’s bill, Sen. Port’s legalization measure is a similar iteration to one authored by former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and passed by the House in 2021. During the committee meeting on Wednesday, members agreed to adopt an amendment that would align the Senate version with the current form of the House bill that has already been revised and refined by numerous panels in that chamber since its introduction by Rep. Stephenson.
While the joint Stephenson/Port legislative effort closely mirrors that of Winkler’s 2021 effort, there are some key changes, along with newly adopted amendments, that distinguish their legislation from past attempts.
Some of those changes and additions include a new license category for businesses that sell "lower-potency edible products", a reduction in regulatory requirements for those licenses, the establishment of a Cannabis Management Board and the creation of a Cannabis Advisory Council.
There are, however, some significant concerns on the part of industry stakeholders, particularly in the already legal and burgeoning hemp-based THC industry in Minnesota. Since the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018 by Congress, hemp cultivation and the manufacture and sale of hemp-derived products have been legal across the United States. Many hemp companies have invested a substantial amount of time, money and hard work in building their businesses.
As more specific details of the Stephenson/Port legalization bill come to light, there is legitimate concern over the potential negative impact it could have on existing hemp-based THC manufacturers and retailers.
In particular, the proposed cannabis legalization bill, as it is currently constructed, would repeal the low-dose THC edible law (passed this past July) on July 1, 2024. Additionally, the new measure would require low-dose THC retailers to enter every cannabis transaction into a separate software system and would allow those same retailers to only sell low-dose THC beverages - no edibles.
It would eradicate vertical business integration and require hemp manufacturers to be licensed as cannabis manufacturers as well. On top of all of those detrimental issues, the proposed legislation could also potentially create unnecessary and expensive tax burdens for small hemp-based businesses in Minnesota and pose an existential threat to the beverage industry.
While there is much excitement and enthusiasm on the part of lawmakers and pro-cannabis advocates surrounding this new attempt at legalization in Minnesota, it is always prudent and advisable to pump the brakes at times and make sure we are getting right.
Too often in a zealous rush to end the prohibition on a plant that a vast majority of Americans approve of legalizing, states enact laws that end up benefitting the large, deep-pocketed corporations to the detriment of the small business owner, who in many instances laid the difficult groundwork enabling legalization to happen in the first place. Let’s hope those 18 committees do, in fact, take the time to scrutinize, vet, amend and appropriately refine this important bill before it becomes the law of the land.