After passing through a dozen committees, a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is moving toward a full floor House vote—a historic first for the state. Though advocates and lawmakers are confident the legislation will be approved by the Democrat-held House, the bill’s momentum may be halted soon after by Minnesota’s GOP-led Senate.
Minnesota Adult-Use Cannabis Bill Passed by House Committees
At the end of January, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D – District 46A) filed a proposal that would permit adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, in addition to expunging existing cannabis offenses. Since then, the bill has advanced through twelve House panels, including the Health Finance and Policy Committee and the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.
While developing the proposed measures, Winkler held public forums across the state to advocate for cannabis law reform and gauge which aspects of legalization are most important for Minnesotans—an effort that resulted in an emphasis on social equity.
“By involving so many people, by listening to concerns and trying to address those concerns. . . we’ve built a lot of support,” said the House Majority Leader.
Winkler has been firm on his stance that expungement of prior cannabis-related convictions is a “non-negotiable” facet of the bill, referencing the difficult cycle of poverty facing many Minnesotans who’ve fallen victim to the state’s strict cannabis laws.
Expungement is just one way the bill seeks to “correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities who’ve been over-policed – who have been targeted for cannabis enforcement to further a prohibition of cannabis that does not work,” according to Winkler.
The proposal also follows the lead of legal cannabis states like Colorado and Massachusetts by placing a priority on social equity applicants—applicants residing in areas that have experienced a disproportionately large amount of cannabis enforcement—in the marijuana market’s licensing process.
The diverse licensing system outlined by the legislation would prevent Minnesota’s cannabis market from being overrun by multi-state, big-money marijuana businesses. Under the bill, retail cannabis sales would see a ten percent tax, which would be allocated to a grant program aimed at economic development.
“We have the ability to change laws in a way that improves people’s lives, whether it’s expunging cannabis-related records, targeting economic opportunity for those impacted most by the war on drugs, providing relief for veterans suffering from PTSD and serious health conditions, and more,” Winkler wrote to his supporters in an email bulletin. “At the beginning of the year, a House committee had never passed a legalization bill. Now, we’re on the verge of passing a bill off the House floor.”
Despite the adult-use legalization bill’s continued success through twelve committees—as well as its predicted approval in the House’s floor vote—many are doubtful over the measure’s chances in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Will Minnesota’s Marijuana Legalization Bill Pass Full Legislature?
House Majority Leader Winkler has remained hopeful that the proposed bill can advance through the Senate, saying that “it cuts across both parties,” and that he doesn’t “see any reason why it wouldn’t pass both houses if the vote can come up in the Senate.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R- District 9) has expressed that cannabis legalization isn’t a priority for Minnesota, and the wide-reaching nature of Winkler’s proposal has some lawmakers feeling unsure about the bill. With different aspects of the legislation touching on taxation, criminal law, labor law, and other complex areas, many conservative representatives are falling in favor of simply reforming current medical marijuana laws.
Other GOP lawmakers are working toward a compromise that they feel will fit both parties’ political agendas. Representative Pat Garofalo (R – District 58B), who approved the bill in a hearing conducted by Minnesota’s Tax Committee, believes an amendment he’s introduced to the legislation will help garner more support from fellow Republicans.
Garofalo’s revision would require extra tax revenue generated by the marijuana market to be allocated to tax relief.
“The adoption of this amendment is a game changer,” said Rep. Garofalo. “The Democrat majority accepting this amendment means that if signed into law, this bill will result in lowering taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed with the revenue generated from taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.”
Still, many experts are predicting that political roadblocks throughout the GOP-led Senate are too much for the legalization bill to overcome. If that’s the case, Representative Winkler plans to convince Republican lawmakers to put the issue in front of voters next year.
“I think if they would agree that we could put this on the ballot in 2022, I think it would pass overwhelmingly,” said the House Majority Leader.
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