The Minnesota state legislature on Saturday passed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, capping off a legislative process that saw dozens of committees scrutinize the proposal before its passage. The bill now heads to the desk of Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign legislation to legalize cannabis for adults. If Walz signs the bill as expected, Minnesota will become the 23rd state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.
A conference committee reached a consensus on the legislation on Tuesday after meeting three times to reconcile discrepancies between separate bills passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives and the state Senate last month. The final version of the bill was passed by House on Thursday by a vote of 73-57, followed by passage in the Senate by a vote of 34-32 in the early morning hours on Saturday.
“It has been an incredible journey … to get this bill to this place,” Democratic state Rep. Zack Stephenson, the sponsor of the legislation in the House, said in a statement quoted by the StarTribune after the conference committee reached an agreement on the marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.
The legislation will legalize the possession of up to two pounds of marijuana and the limited home cultivation of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older beginning this summer. Under the bill, adults would be allowed to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home, including four mature, flowering plants.
Legislation Legalizes Regulated Marijuana Sales
The bill also legalizes commercial cannabis activity, with regulated sales of recreational marijuana coming after rules are drafted and approved by the Office of Cannabis Management, a new state agency created by the legislation. The new agency will also regulate medical marijuana, which was legalized in Minnesota in 2014, as well as cannabis products derived from hemp.
Once regulated sales of recreational marijuana begin, adults will be permitted to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis, eight grams of cannabis concentrate and edible products containing up to 800 milligrams of THC, the cannabis compound largely responsible for the classic marijuana “high.” Sales of recreational pot will likely begin sometime in 2024.
Minnesota Democratic state Sen. Lindsey Port, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said that drafting the legislation, at nearly 300 pages, “has been a huge team effort.”
“Rep. Stephenson and I remain absolutely committed to getting this bill passed this year,” said Port.
The legislation sets a tax rate of 10% on recreational cannabis products, with 20% of revenue collected directed to local governments. Cities and counties would have a role in the licensing of cannabis companies, including a provision of the bill that allows cities to set a cap on the number of marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions. Local governments that opt to limit the number of retailers could set a cap of one shop for every 12,500 residents, according to the legislation.
Bill Advances Cannabis Social Equity
Minnesota’s cannabis legalization bill includes social equity measures designed to address harms caused by nearly a century of prohibition and ensure participation in the newly legal cannabis industry by individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses or their family members. The legislation also grants social equity status to military veterans or active service members who were denied honorable status because of a cannabis offense, farmers from underrepresented communities and residents of areas that “experienced a disproportionately large amount of cannabis enforcement.”
The legislation also includes measures to expunge past convictions for misdemeanor marijuana offenses and for sentence reductions for some more serious crimes. The automatic process is expected to begin in August, but completing all expungements could take until next year. Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said that there are tens of thousands of marijuana-related criminal records that need to be reviewed. He also said that a court order might be needed to guide how criminal background checks conducted by out-of-state entities would be reported.
“We’ll be doing this as rapidly as we can, but we want to get it right,” Evans told Minnesota Public Radio. “So it has to be done right so that anybody that is entitled to relief receives that relief and vice versa.”
Gracie Johnson, policy director at Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to secure the release of all cannabis prisoners, praised the expungement and resentencing provisions in Minnesota’s marijuana legalization legislation.
“By expunging some old cannabis records automatically— without requiring the individual to petition the court—Minnesota is taking responsibility for the damaging impact prohibition has had on its people,” Johnson writes in an email. “A cannabis criminal record can prevent someone from getting a job, securing housing, furthering their education, and even chaperoning their children’s field trips. Minnesota also took the critical step to provide a pathway to resentencing for people still serving cannabis-related punishments. “
“Continuing to imprison people for prohibition-era sentences is an unjust and counterproductive use of state resources,” adds Johnson.
The bill includes provisions that allow Minnesota’s current medical marijuana providers to grow, process and retail adult-use cannabis under a “medical combination” license created by the conference committee. The state’s two existing providers will be permitted to remain vertically integrated, while only small and medium recreational marijuana companies will be licensed for seed-to-sale operations.
If Walz signs the bill as expected, Minnesota will be the 23rd state in the United States to legalize marijuana for adults. Travis Copenhaver, a partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente LLP, says that the legislation reflects the evolution of cannabis reform policy as more states join the fold.
“Minnesota’s recent legislative efforts clearly demonstrate insights from the lessons learned from other legal states in the Great Lakes region, including reasonable possession and home cultivation provisions, automatic expungement relief, and promising social equity components,” Copenhaver writes in an email. “All signs continue to indicate that Governor Walz will sign a legalization bill soon, perhaps before the end of May.”
On Friday, Minnesota officially became the fifteenth state in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana use, with Governor Tim Walz signing a passage bill which had been approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives earlier in the week.
The new bill, known as the Minnesota Regulation of Cannabis Act, legalizes the possession and sale of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana flower and allows for the cultivation of up to eight plants at home. Only adults 21 and older are allowed to purchase and consume cannabis products, but up to $375 in fines may be issued to anyone under the age of 21 found in possession.
The bill also creates a Social Equity program to encourage participation in the marijuana industry for those disproportionately harmed by decades of criminal enforcement against marijuana consumption. This program provides grants to open and operate social equity cannabis businesses, assistance with legal and regulatory paperwork, and business development training.
Though Minnesota is now set to become a leader in marijuana legalization reform, the bill establishes very strict regulations for all marijuana businesses. Tests for potency and contamination and compliance with labeling and packaging regulations are required, and public consumption remains prohibited.
The new law won’t go into effect until July 1, 2021, giving legislators time to develop specific initiatives and regulations for professional license holders that are compliant with both state and federal guidelines.
The passing of this bill makes Minnesota the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana use, further emphasizing the changing atmosphere for marijuana policy in the United States.