Minnesota Senate advances legal marijuana

Gov. Tim Walz said he’d sign legalization into law, but before a bill can get to his desk, the Senate and House will have to iron out differences between their proposals.

Cannabis grower Steve Dillon tends to his plants on his farm in Humboldt County, California in 2016.
Rory Carroll / REUTERS

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Friday, April 28, passed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. It's the furthest along that legalization has ever gotten in the Legislature.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said he’d sign legalization into law, but before a bill can get to his desk, the Senate and House will need to iron out differences between their proposals. The House legalization bill passed on Tuesday.

Backers of legalization have not touted marijuana as a big money maker for the state, but instead point to the unequal outcomes for different groups in society and wasted law enforcement resources.

“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible cost for our communities, especially for communities of color,” said bill sponsor Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville. "We have an opportunity today to vote green to undo some of the harm that has been done and create a unique system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition."

Legalization has passed in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled House before, but the GOP-controlled Senate never allowed bills to move forward. The prospects for legal pot soared after the DFL took control of the Senate after last November's election, and Friday's vote was the first time the Senate had ever taken up a legalization proposal.


After several hours of debate on Friday, senators approved the bill on a 34-33 vote, with all DFLers voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.

The Senate bill would allow marijuana possession for people 21 and older, expunge marijuana conviction records and create a new regulatory plan for the substance. Sales of cannabis products would carry a 10% state tax.

Eligible adults could possess 2 ounces or less of cannabis in a public place, and 5 pounds or less in a residence — significantly higher than the 1.5 pounds in the House version. Individuals would be able to possess edibles with a total of 800 milligrams or less of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.

On the regulatory side, legalization would create new licenses for cultivators, retailers, wholesalers and other parts of the cannabis business. An office of cannabis management created by the bill would regulate the production and sale of cannabis products in the state as well as the state medical cannabis program. The agency would work with the Department of Agriculture on food safety standards for edibles.

THC-containing edibles made legal in Minnesota last July also would fall under new regulations. Sellers of the low-dosage edibles currently legal in the state would need to apply for a license.

Local governments would not be able to prohibit cannabis, though they would be allowed to create “reasonable restrictions” on the times and places cannabis businesses can operate. Those reasonable restrictions include bans on a business operating within 1,000 feet of a school or day care.

If the bill becomes law, Minnesotans can possess pot starting Aug. 1. Lawmakers have until May 22 to finish their business.



Opponents of legalization have raised concerns about marijuana’s impact on younger people’s mental health, and have proposed raising the minimum age to possess and use the substance to 25. They also raised concerns about whether local governments would have sufficient control over regulating businesses that sell marijuana.

On the Senate floor Friday, Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said he used marijuana “a lot” in college and recounted feeling amused while watching the anti-marijuana film “Reefer Madness” with his friends while under the influence of the drug. But over the years, Abeler said his position has shifted, and he has concerns that youth marijuana use can have negative mental health consequences.

“Never before in my experience have we passed a bill that we know is going to cause harm to a large group of people,” he said.

Abeler last year voted in favor of a bill that legalized low-potency edibles containing hemp-derived THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana that causes a “high.” In the past he said he didn’t know the bill would amount to a quasi-legalization of marijuana in Minnesota.

There are also concerns that there are no roadside tests to detect whether someone is under the influence of marijuana at the time of a traffic stop.

What's next?

It's been a long journey for legal marijuana legislation this session. The bills have been through a marathon of more than two dozen committee hearings since January, and even after this week's votes, there's still more work to do.

Now that the Senate and House have passed similar versions of legalization bills, they’ll have to meet in a conference committee and work out the differences. For example, the House version of the bill taxes marijuana at 8% rather than 10%.

The Senate version of the Legalization bill also contains more language on how local governments can regulate marijuana businesses, including the number of businesses allowed in a community. Many municipalities were concerned they wouldn't have enough control over how marijuana businesses could operate.


House legalization bill sponsor Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, earlier this week said he expected the process to run smoothly.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email .

In a first for the state, Christina Lusk, 57, who is serving a sentence for drug possession at the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Moose Lake, will transfer to Shakopee.
The Minnesota governor emphasized the bill’s statewide impact, noting it has funding for metro projects as well as water treatment plants in communities like Mankato and a new firehouse in Dilworth.
The law took effect June 1. Secretary of State Steve Simon said it was Minnesota’s “largest single act of enfranchisement” since the voting age changed from 21 to 18 a half-century ago.
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday signed a bill allowing marijuana possession for adults, expunging marijuana conviction records and creating new licenses for the substance. It goes into effect Aug. 1.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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