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Minnesota House Passes Adult-Use Cannabis Bill

Republicans called it a waste of time, but an adult-use cannabis bill passed the Minnesota House by a 72-61 vote after roughly five hours of floor amendments and discussion Thursday night.

The legislation, House File 600, would allow for adults 21 years and older to possess up to 10 pounds of cannabis in a private residence, up to 2 ounces in public and grow up to eight plants (four mature) for personal use. It passed mostly along party lines, with six of 64 Republicans in the lower chamber voting in favor of the bill. Four of those delegates were successful in receiving majority support for their adopted amendments.

Overall, the bill has 35 lawmakers signed on for sponsorship—all Democrats—including chief author and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.

“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said during his opening remarks on the floor May 13. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color and especially Black Minnesotans.”

Winkler went on to say that roughly 680,000 Minnesotans use cannabis every year.

According to Munira Mohamed, a policy associate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota who testified in favor of the bill during the committee process, a Black person is 5.4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than a white person in Minnesota, which is significantly higher than the national average of a Black person being 3.6 times more likely to be arrested. 

Throughout more than two hours of floor amendments to the bill on Thursday, multiple Republicans called the legislation a waste of time, notably Reps. Kurt Daudt, Anne Neu Brindley and Jim Nash.

“I just want to remind folks that we have four days left of session,” Daudt said. “Our voters sent us here to pass a state budget, and, at this point, Democrats have passed zero budget bills. And with just a few days left in session, here we are wasting our time on this marijuana bill that has no chance [of] becoming law.”

With the Minnesota Legislature’s session nearing an end, and with a Republican-controlled Senate, Winkler recognized his bill’s slim chance of becoming law before the legislative body adjourns.

“Is this bill likely to become law in the next few days?” Winkler said. “Probably not. But it will become law in Minnesota at some point in time, and we need to spend the time to get it right. That’s what this bill tonight is about.”

One of the most thoroughly vetted bills to reach the Minnesota House floor, H.F. 600 was cleared by 12 committees since its introduction in February. In addition, eight underlying amendments were passed by the full chamber Thursday night.

Those amendments included: funding for drug recognition training for law enforcement; an earmark for 5% of tax revenue to be directed into a substance-use disorder grant fund; a measure protecting consumer and employee data from being shared with the federal government; language ensuring cannabis users enrolled on firearm registries cannot be denied their right to lawful gun ownership in the state; funds to study the possible negative health outcomes adult-use legalization could have on communities impacted the most by prohibition; a product label warning requirement; and a reduction of the size of a new Cannabis Management Board, as well as an adjustment to the appointment process to that board to put the legislature and governor on equal footing.

While five floor amendments did not pass, Winkler urged his fellow Democrats to support the eight floor amendments that did pass—all of which were offered by Republicans.

During the floor discussion segment of the bill, Republican Rep. Jeremy Munson applauded Winkler’s efforts on the legislation before casting his vote in favor of the bill.

“I’ve read this bill several times through on different engrossments, and I’ve done a lot of research on this bill,” Munson said. “Your work has shown that you’re actually taking amendments and you’re actually trying to improve something, and I want to thank you for that because there’s a lot of stuff in this bill. And I wish that every member would read this bill through, because you’ll realize a lot of amendments in this bill, a lot of provisions in the bill are not what we would call crazy, Democrat, liberal garbage in the bill. There’s actually a lot of provisions that you can tell you went out into rural Minnesota and collected concerns about the bill. How do we keep it out of the hands of kids?”

H.F. 600 states that the Cannabis Management Board shall not approve any cannabis product that is or appears to be a lollipop or ice cream; bears the likeness of a real or fictional person, animal or fruit; is modeled after a brand of products primarily consumed by or marketed to children; or is made by applying extracted or concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to a commercially available candy or snack food item.

One floor amendment that did not pass was a proposal to give local municipalities the authority to opt out of licensing cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions. Winkler urged his colleagues not to support the measure because he said allowing localities throughout the state to impose bans on the industry would only continue to foster the illicit market.

“The fact of the matter is that we are trying to dry up and eliminate the illegal sale of cannabis in Minnesota,” Winkler said. “We want it to end. And by moving to a system in which regulations are straightforward and simple, where taxation is not high, where we are not using cannabis as a revenue source to fund other things, we are doing everything we can in this bill to eliminate the illegal marketplace and shift it, migrate it to a legal, regulated marketplace.”

Winkler went on and said a local patchwork of varying regulations throughout the state would guarantee the failure of that policy goal. Rather, imposing uniform regulations and a 10% tax on on-site retail sales—lower than several states that already have adult-use cannabis programs implemented—would accomplish the objective, he said.

Two other amendment proposals that failed were: raising the legal adult-use cannabis age from 21 years to 25 years; and allowing employers to randomly or arbitrarily screen job applicants out based solely on positive tests for cannabis use if it makes no difference to those employers in the workplace. Minnesota remains an at-will employment state, meaning employers can still terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one.

While certain Republicans continued to call the legislation a waste of time, Democratic Rep. Jessica Hanson said she didn’t see it that way.

“Unlike some of the statements made today, I do not think this is a waste of time,” she said. “Someone is criminalized for cannabis every 48 seconds. It impacts millions of people a year, and over two-thirds of the nation wants to put an end to that. The government hasn’t just made it virtually impossible to safely access cannabis, but it implemented a system of prohibition that has robbed people of their jobs, their homes, their freedom, their peace and, for too many, their lives. This is an urgent issue, and we should absolutely be discussing this today.”

H.F. 600 also facilitates the automatic expungement of certain past cannabis convictions, allows for the on-site consumption of cannabis in licensed facilities, permits home delivery and includes social equity provisions to reduce barriers of entry into the industry for communities that have historically been most adversely impacted by prohibition, as highlighted in a statement from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

“It’s time for Minnesota to become a leader in the Midwest when it comes to sensible marijuana policy,” NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf said. “Not only would the passage of this bill allow police and courts to reprioritize their limited resources toward fighting serious crime rather than interacting with otherwise law-abiding Minnesotans over low-level possession offenses, but it would also provide relief to thousands suffering the collateral consequences of a marijuana arrest and conviction. I strongly encourage members of the Senate to follow the will of their constituents, a majority of whom support this policy change, and consider this common-sense remedy to the failed policy of prohibition.”

 

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