Minnesota Reintroduces Recreational Cannabis Legalization Bill

Soft Secrets
02 Feb 2021

The pressure is up for Minnesota to introduce proper cannabis legislation.

Minnesota Democrats again introduced a bill Monday that aims to legalize recreational cannabis statewide. A similar proposal was submitted as recently as May 2020 but to no fruition.  The chief sponsor for the current 173-page bill, “for an act relating to cannabis,” as it reads, is Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.  "The failed criminalization of cannabis has resulted in a legacy of racial injustice that can no longer go unaddressed," Winkler said in a statement.  “Adults deserve the freedom to decide whether to use cannabis, and our state government should play an important role in addressing legitimate concerns around youth access, public health, and road safety,” he said. The state has a medical cannabis program eligible for Minnesotans suffering from certain qualifying medical conditions, however, Winkler said the program is not working well for most people and that patients with serious illnesses such as PTSD deserved better access to it.  "It's time to legalize, expunge, and regulate," he said.  Besides the bill is to expunge automatically minor cannabis convictions that affect Black Minnesotans disproportionately, it also aims to allow a limited number of cannabis plants cultivating at home.  The bill also aims to create a regulatory structure that will help small businesses in a market that demands rigorous testing, labeling, and packaging of products efforts, the DFL announced.  In this latest quest to push forward Minnesota recreational cannabis legalization, DFL lawmakers further cited growing bipartisan support and the recent legalization of pot in other states.  Minnesota recreational cannabis legalization

Neighbor states up the ante for Minnesota to act

During a news conference on Monday (1 Feb), Winkler pointed to recent action in neighboring and Republican-dominant South Dakota, where voters approved recreational cannabis during the November 2020 election, though the law faces a court challengeArizona, Montana, and New Jersey had similar ballot measures that passed, bringing the total number of states that have legalized the soft drug to 15 states. Underway is an effort in North Dakota to get the proposal on the ballot in 2022.  “Cannabis got almost as many votes in South Dakota as Donald Trump did,” Winkler said. He told reporters legalization elsewhere shows bipartisan support is growing, and a bordering state with such laws ups the ante for Minnesota to act.  “If people are willing to drive to Wisconsin in order to buy fireworks, they’re sure as heck gonna drive to South Dakota to get cannabis,” he said. Minnesota’s State House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, has also expressed support for the state’s recreational cannabis legalization bill.  "It's clear that our current cannabis laws aren't working for Minnesota," Hortman said in a statement and called for "smart, sensible legislation" that will address racial inequity in the state's criminal justice system, tackle harms, and secure better outcomes for communities.

Some opposition is to be expected

In a Republican-controlled Senate, the cannabis bill is expected to face at least some fight. Top GOP lawmakers, including Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, are known to have successfully stood against legalization in the past. Cannabis legalization failed in a Republican-controlled Senate committee in the 2019 legislative session, for instance. But House Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he and other Republicans favor legalizing cannabis for adult-use.  Garofalo said in a statement that members of all political parties should work together and implement a better regulatory model that will "address the expensive, inefficient, and unfair prohibition of marijuana," he said.  “Contrary to what some will say, this is not a partisan issue. Many Republicans are interested in reforming these expensive laws,” he said.  The latest Minnesota bill has now been referred to the House Committee on Commerce Finance and Policy. Public hearings that will also consult Minnesotans are due to follow with dates due to be determined. Better luck in 2021, Minnesota!
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