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Proposed cannabis task force would examine issues surrounding legalization

Two bills have been introduced this legislative session that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Minnesota.

Legislation approved by the House Government Operations Committee Friday doesn’t go that far. Instead, HF717, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), seeks answers regarding how marijuana legalization would work and the impacts it could have on the state.

The bill, as amended, would establish a cannabis task force to develop a plan and make recommendations to the Legislature on legalization, taxation and regulation for the production, sale and use of cannabis.

“There are great winds that are blowing across the nation relative to the full legalization of cannabis,” Mariani said. “This bill doesn’t do that. What this bill does is say we don’t simply want to get caught up in the wind.”

Mariani said he wants to engage a broad group of people who would work together to identify the most important issues and potential problems the state would face if recreational marijuana is eventually legalized, joining the 10 other states, District of Columbia and Canada that have taken that step.

Among the items the task force would be directed to address are:

  • statutory changes necessary to legalize cannabis;
  • taxation of cannabis sales and appropriate uses for the revenue raised;
  • state and local regulation of cannabis growth, processing, transport, packaging, labeling, sale, possession, and use;
  • federal law, policy, and regulation of cannabis;
  • public education on the effects of cannabis, especially regarding use by minors;
  • funding and provision for treatment of cannabis abuse;
  • expungement and pardon of nonviolent marijuana convictions;
  • security of cannabis retail and manufacturing locations and the safe handling of proceeds from cannabis sales, including banking options;
  • policies that promote access to the legal cannabis market to persons from communities that are disproportionately impacted by the ban on cannabis, including incentives for minority-owned businesses to participate in the cannabis industry;
  • statutory and policy changes designed to discourage operating motor vehicles while under the influence of cannabis; and
  • recommendations to the Legislature and others about necessary and appropriate actions related to legalization of cannabis in the state.

The task force, which is to include more than 30 members, would have to submit a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2020.

That relatively short timetable, along with the size of the group, prompted questions from committee members.

Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) said the task force had a big undertaking and suggested moving the report’s due date back by six months to a year.

“I want to make sure there’s time for this large group of stakeholders to meet,” Zerwas said. “I don’t oppose the bill, I appreciate what you’re doing.”

Mariani said he might be more receptive to that suggestion under different circumstances, but that legalization advocates have a “strong desire” to move the issue forward and that delaying action past the next legislative session could cause his stakeholder coalition to fracture.

Rep. Sandra Masin (DFL-Eagan) said she sensed the number of those who support legalization is growing, but others aren’t yet onboard.

“There are people who are, how do I put it, cautious, about going forward,” Masin said. “So I wish you well.” 

The companion bill, SF897, is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls). It awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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