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Marijuana legalization moving through legislature

Recent survey shows majority of state residents approve

David Colburn
Posted 1/18/23

REGIONAL- Recreational marijuana may be on the verge of becoming reality in Minnesota if the state Legislature approves a bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this …

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Marijuana legalization moving through legislature

Recent survey shows majority of state residents approve

Posted

REGIONAL- Recreational marijuana may be on the verge of becoming reality in Minnesota if the state Legislature approves a bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month.
“Minnesotans are ready,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), the bill’s chief author in the House. “Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota. Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves.”
A majority of Minnesota voters, 53 percent, polled in an MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE 11 survey conducted last September said the state should legalize marijuana for recreational use. However, that support is divided along party lines, with 70 percent of Democrats in favor and 65 percent of Republicans opposed.
That division played out in last year’s legislative session, with the DFL-controlled House passing a similar bill that wasn’t taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Now, with the DFL in control of both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz on record in support of legalization, the bill’s prospects for success is greater.
Stephenson made it clear that a major driver for legalizing recreational marijuana is that “prohibition does not work.”
“Our current laws are doing more harm than good,” he said. “State and local governments are spending millions enforcing laws that aren’t helping anyone – money that could be put to far better purposes.”

What’s allowed
The bill would permit persons age 21 or older to:
• Use, possess, or transport cannabis paraphernalia.
• Possess two ounces or less of cannabis flower in a public place.
• Possess five pounds or less of cannabis flower in a person’s residence.
• Possess or transport eight grams or less of adult-use cannabis concentrate.
• Possess or transport edible products infused with a total of 800 mg or less of THC.
• Give away cannabis flower and cannabinoid products in an amount that is legal for a person to possess in public.
• Use cannabis flower and cannabinoid products in private areas.
• Cultivate up to eight cannabis plants, of which four or fewer may be mature, flowering plants.
Marijuana can’t be used in cars, schools, or prisons or anyplace where smoking of tobacco is not allowed.
In addition, the bill would provide for the expungement of records of people with non-felony marijuana offenses for actions that would be legal under the new law. Those with felony-level offenses would have the opportunity to have their records reviewed by a board set up by the bill for possible reduction of sentences or expungement.
Employers would be prohibited from requiring job applicants to be tested for marijuana as a condition of employment, except in cases where such testing is required by law. Random drug testing would not be allowed, although employers would be able to require tests if they suspect employees of being impaired, violating work rules regarding cannabis, or being involved in a workplace injury or accident.

Regulation
The bill would create a new agency, called the Office of Cannabis Management, that would oversee recreational marijuana activities, as well as take over the medical marijuana program from the Department of Health and hemp-based edibles regulation edibles regulation from the Board of Pharmacy. The agency would draft the rules that would govern licensing, regulation and enforcement. It would set potency standards and limits, work with other agencies and a cannabis advisory board to implement and oversee the program. It would determine how much supply and how many suppliers are enough. It would prepare reports for the Legislature.
There are 14 different license types established covering growing, processing, retail sales, testing, events, even delivery services. Licensing fees would be kept low to allow more potential vendors to participate in those activities.
A controversial aspect of regulation is the prohibition against local governments regulating or taxing the recreational marijuana industry. Stephenson believes such regulations would create environments where illegal providers could thrive, and the bill has been crafted with an eye toward reducing illegal activities. Municipalities could restrict hours of operation and locations of dispensaries. A group representing cities in the seven-county Twin Cities area wants cities to have the right to license retailers and to be able to ban sales in their jurisdictions.
Those hoping that marijuana legalization could bring a tax revenue boon may be somewhat disappointed by the impact of the proposed bill, which would impose an eight-percent tax on sales on top of the already existing retail sales tax. Lawmakers expect that would cover the costs of the new state program to regulate cannabis, but won’t provide the kind of tax windfall some states have experienced.
All farming and processing of recreational marijuana sold in Minnesota would have to be done in-state, and the bill provides advantages in licensing and grants to veterans, residents of areas with a history of high law enforcement of cannabis related crimes, and residents of areas with high levels of poverty in an attempt to address social equity issues. The Office of Cannabis Management would have a division of social equity dedicated to make sure that people and communities that have suffered the most from the prohibition of marijuana will have equal access to benefit from its legalization.
When could it happen
The bill will have to run the gauntlet of nearly a dozen House committees because of the scope of agencies and activities it will affect, with each providing opportunities for opponents of the bill to register their objections.
The most notable public opponent is Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legislation (MAML), a coalition whose members include the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, the Minnesota Trucking Association, the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association, the Minnesota Safety Council, and the Minnesota Catholic Conference. MAML believes legalization of marijuana causes widespread costs and societal harms linked to increases in homelessness, increases in government spending, increased public health costs, loss of productivity, increases in crime and violence, loss of potential, workplace safety costs, rising business cost, decreased roadway safety and increases in housing costs. These are similar to the arguments advanced against the bill by legislative Republicans.
Should the bill be passed and signed by Gov. Walz, most of the provisions would take effect July 1, but that does not mean that recreational marijuana would be legal then.
The new state agency would have to be formed, officials appointed, the rules-writing process initiated. Former state Rep. Ryan Winkler, the prime sponsor of the 2021 bill that the current bill is patterned after, said he thinks it will take a minimum of 12 months for all that to take place.
Once regulations are in place, producers would have to be licensed before they could begin growing a crop that takes up to nine months to mature. Processing, inspection, testing and distribution would follow. That makes it probable that products would not be available for sale until sometime in 2025, Winkler estimated. Hemp-edibles regulation under the new agency would be impacted by stricter regulations and licensing.

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