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MN House Passes Final Cannabis Legalization Bill

The Minnesota House of Representatives approved the finalized version of the comprehensive marijuana reform on Thursday.

As first reported by Fox9 St. Paul, the Minnesota House passed the final version of a bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. Following three sessions convened by a special bipartisan, bicameral committee meeting to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the measure approved separately in each chamber, the final bill was sent to the House on Thursday for a final vote.


Before the clinching vote, Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL), the bill's sponsor in the House, expressed his joy and relief that the process was nearing a successful conclusion. Stephenson said on the floor, "Well, the day has finally arrived. Today is the day that we are going to vote here in the House for the last time to legalize cannabis and bring the change that many Minnesotans have wanted for a very long time. This is a good bill. It's been a long process to get here."


"Well, the day has finally arrived. Today is the day that we are going to vote here in the House for the last time to legalize cannabis and bring the change that many Minnesotans have wanted for a very long time. This is a good bill. It's been a long process to get here."

- MN State Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL)


The legislation passed 73-57 and will now go to the Senate for one last vote before it heads to Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), who has promised to sign the bill into law. Approval of the legalization reform fell mainly along party lines. However, there was some support from Republicans as well.


Rep. Nolan West (R), who participated in the conference committee meetings, said, "Opening up to a legal market will allow these things to be tested and approved. Everything that will be sold when this bill is legal will have to be approved and tested so people know what's in it. It's more dangerous today without this, just like when people were dying from alcohol with alcohol prohibition. It's more dangerous to prohibit it."


"Opening up to a legal market will allow these things to be tested and approved. Everything that will be sold when this bill is legal will have to be approved and tested so people know what's in it. It's more dangerous today without this, just like when people were dying from alcohol with alcohol prohibition. It's more dangerous to prohibit it."

- MN State Rep. Nolan West (R)


Committee members reached several compromises, including a 10% tax on cannabis sales (with 80% of tax revenue going to the state treasury and the remaining 20% allocated to local governments), an at-home possession limit of two pounds of marijuana, taxation agreements between the state and Native American tribes and allowing low-potency hemp products to be displayed in locked cases in stores as opposed to being located behind the counter.


The Senate is expected to make its final vote before the legislative session ends on May 22. However, even if it receives approval by senators and is signed into law by Gov. Walz, legal possession of cannabis by individuals 21 and older would not begin until Aug. 1. Likewise, the state will most likely be unable to issue retail licenses to prospective businesses for another 12 to 16 months.


The bill's journey has been long and contentious at times. With the House and Senate versions enduring over a dozen committee hearings apiece, lawmakers like Stephenson and his Senate co-sponsor, Lindsey Port (DFL), had to negotiate a veritable gauntlet to reach this point. However, as they now see the finish line, there are still problematic issues plaguing the potential new law, most notably the impact it will have on Minnesota's hemp industry.


For months, hemp advocates have been lobbying and downright pleading with lawmakers to remove hemp's highly unusual and unprecedented inclusion from the marijuana reform legislation. Unfortunately, while hemp stakeholders did receive a few concessions during the hearing process, the changes did very little to remove the most harmful provisions.


According to the Minnesota Industrial Hemp Association (MIHA), licensing categories created by the final version of the adult-use marijuana measure would inflict a complex and burdensome regulation infrastructure on the still young and developing industry. These unnecessary and harsh economic and regulatory rules it would impose on the Minnesota hemp market could ultimately destroy many small businesses.


Of the more than 20 states that have passed marijuana legalization measures, Minnesota is the only state to enmesh hemp with cannabis in its legislative effort. Unfortunately, in their zeal to pass the law, legislators may end up destroying one of its most dedicated and passionate allies in the overall legalization effort.


According to one small hemp business entrepreneur, the legislation could be the death knell for his and many other hemp-based companies in Minnesota if enacted. "My business dies on Jul. 1, 2023," said Plift CEO Todd Harris.


"My business dies on Jul. 1, 2023," said Plift CEO Todd Harris.

- Plift CEO Todd Harris


The small window of time between when the measure becomes law and actual licensing begins may provide lawmakers with the necessary period to modify the law or pass additional ones to protect the thousands of Minnesotans dependent on the hemp industry for their livelihoods. The clock will begin ticking once the governor affixes his signature to the bill making Minnesota the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana. Hopefully, state leaders will give us much care and concern to help protect legal hemp as they did to legalize cannabis.


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