Will Minnesota Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis This Year?
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Will Minnesota Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis This Year?

Multiple legalization bills have been introduced in the state legislature this session, including a conservative approach that may be able to garner enough votes.

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February 7, 2019

Among the handful of adult-use cannabis legalization bills in the Minnesota legislature this year is one that Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Political Director Jason Tarasek said may just be conservative enough to pass.

Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL- Edina) and Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) introduced Senate Bill 619 and House Bill 420 Jan. 28 to legalize recreational marijuana for Minnesotans 21 and older. Under the proposal, adults could legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis and eight grams of concentrates. Individuals would be permitted to grow up to four plants at home, and the state would license and regulate commercial growing operations, product manufacturers, retail stores and laboratories.

Newly elected Gov. Tim Walz is supportive of legalization and will likely sign the bill if it passes the legislature, but some Senate Republicans, including the majority leader, are unsure if the legislation has enough support to pass the Senate, and lawmakers are not considering the issue a priority this session.

Two other competing legalization proposals would need voter approval and would likely be placed on the state’s 2020 ballot.

RELATED: 2019 State Cannabis Legislation: The Bills to Watch

MPP supports House Bill 420, Tarasek said, which roughly follows legislation passed in Colorado and Washington and is a more conservative approach to legalization.

“It is perhaps more conservative than the activists would like, but it also reflects what MPP believes is something that can actually pass,” Tarasek said. “The other bill that goes into detail into [home grow] has 12 plants total. So, again, it’s more of a conservative approach than the other legislation being offered, but … we think it will appeal to a broader range of legislators.”

House Bill 420 would dedicate $10 million from annual cannabis tax revenue to historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, as well as 10 percent of the remaining funds to training law enforcement on how to recognize impaired drivers and educating teens about the potential dangers of marijuana use.

“It’s got a pretty substantial public health focus, and the main author, Rep. Freiberg, is a lawyer who works in the public health department in one of our main law schools here, and he spends most of his time and his day job trying to prevent cigarette companies from marketing to teens, so I think the bill reflects his interest in keeping marijuana away from teens,” Tarasek said. “So, it’s got what we think is a pretty thoughtful approach to legalization.”

MPP would like an adult-use market in Minnesota to include zoning provisions that keep dispensaries a certain distance away from schools, Tarasek added. The organization would also like local companies, as well as minorities and those impacted by the war on drugs, to have a chance to participate in the regulated industry.

“We would like historically disadvantaged neighborhoods to get a leg up on the competition in terms of getting dispensaries in their neighborhoods and run by people of color,” Tarasek said. “There’s a substantial regulatory component here that would aim to prevent non-Minnesotans from swooping in to monopolize the market. In MPP’s view, that is something that perhaps other states have seen and viewed as a detriment, so we’re aiming to give an advantage to local companies to operate the business once it’s made legal.”

With a Republican-controlled Senate, however, it is unclear if legalization will become a reality in Minnesota this legislative session, Tarasek said.

“We have a fraught relationship even with medical marijuana,” he said. “We had a democratic governor, Gov. [Mark] Dayton, who was not that enthralled even with medical cannabis, and we have what many consider a terminally broken medical marijuana program here.”

Minnesota’s medical marijuana program bans smoking, and the list of approved qualifying conditions can be restrictive, Tarasek said. Patients have struggled to find doctors willing to recommend medical cannabis, he added, and many have been forced back to the illicit market.

“Although it’s helped some people, and it’s better than nothing, it’s just extremely deficient,” Tarasek said.

Although Gov. Walz campaigned on legalization, Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House, creating a divided legislature that could be an obstacle to passing legislation aimed at fixing these issues with the medical program, as well as an adult-use legalization bill.

“But at the same time, there’s a growing public pressure that Minnesota is ready for legalization, and I think if not this session, perhaps next session,” Tarasek said. “If the Republicans lose control of the Senate, it might be time for legalization.”

Both Senate Bill 619 and House Bill 420 have been referred to committees, he said, and the Senate version has a Republican co-author, which could give it some traction. Tarasek will meet with Republican senators in the coming weeks to gauge their support.

“There is an issue campaign being formed around this,” he said. “There’s something called Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation that has formed a steering committee that includes Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and other notable politicians. It’s a … multi-partisan group aimed at getting legislation passed. So, … we’re taking a long-range approach, probably a two-year campaign, and then we might be in a position to get the bill passed.”

The discussion on hemp is also active in the legislature, Tarasek added, and some CBD bills have been introduced this session, as well.

“I think we’re still in the early stages here,” he said. “We’re still trying to identify which Republicans, both in the House and the Senate, might be receptive to this. … My focus is trying to get the legislators as interested as the people are, and we’re not quite there yet."