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House passes bill to legalize recreational cannabis, sends it to Senate

Rep. Zack Stephenson fields questions from the media April 24 ahead of House Floor debate on HF100, a bill he sponsors that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults in Minnesota. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Rep. Zack Stephenson fields questions from the media April 24 ahead of House Floor debate on HF100, a bill he sponsors that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults in Minnesota. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

— UPDATED at 2:47 p.m. after House vote

Medical marijuana became legal in Minnesota in 2014, and last year the Legislature legalized recreational low-dose, hemp-derived cannabis edibles for adults.

Is the next step for the cannabis plant full legalization for recreational use?

Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) says it’s long overdue because the decades-long prohibition and criminalization of cannabis has not worked to make society safer and has had a devastating effect on minorities.

Minnesota House begins debate on HF100, bill to legalize recreational cannabis - part 1 4/24/23

“It’s time. Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves,” he said at a Monday morning press conference prior to the anticipated House debate on HF100, which would legalize recreational cannabis for adults.

The House passed the bill 71-59, as amended, when it reconvened Tuesday after members halted discussion late Monday. Its next stop is the Senate, which plans to debate the proposed legislation Friday. Stephenson is confident that body will also vote in favor of legalization.

And because Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign such a bill into law, adults could enjoy a joint without worries of being arrested, Stephenson said.

That’s because one of the bill’s provisions would allow homegrown cannabis plants, therefore, a joint filled with leaves from a homegrown plant could be legally smoked this summer, he said.

But Stephenson said the bulk of the more than 200-page bill is not about growing your own weed, but setting up a comprehensive, long-term regulatory framework to tightly regulate legal cannabis, including licensing commercial growers, distributors, and retailers, fund prevention and addiction recovery programs, and provide grants to law enforcement and courts.

House DFL Press Conference 4/24/23

In other words, he said, it will be at least a year after enactment before cannabis retail dispensaries will come about.

The bill would appropriate $73.4 million in the 2024-25 biennium, but because revenue from licensing fees and a cannabis sales tax of 8% on top of existing sales taxes would begin to come into the state’s coffers in 2026, no money would be appropriated beginning in fiscal year 2026.

Over the long run, the bill is more than self-supporting, he said.

What’s in the bill?

Introduced in January, the bill was reviewed and approved by 16 committees before reaching the House Floor. In its current version, it would permit a person age 21 or older to:

  • possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower in a public place or 1.5 pounds in a person’s residence;
  • possess or transport no more than 8 grams of adult-use cannabis concentrate;
  • possess or transport edible products infused with up to 800 milligrams 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; and
  • cultivate up to eight cannabis plants, of which four or fewer may be mature, flowering plants.

Many changes to state statutes, agencies

The bill would make significant changes in many parts of Minnesota law by:

  • creating more than a dozen types of licenses for growing, selling, transporting and testing cannabis;
  • creating an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate cannabis and take enforcement actions;
  • taxing cannabis retail sales at 8%, in addition to any already imposed local or state taxes;
  • creating and funding programs to combat cannabis abuse;
  • creating grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market;
  • eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis possession; and
  • expunging the criminal records of people previously convicted of low-level cannabis offenses.

There would be several legal limits on marijuana use, and civil penalties for violating those limits.

Adults would be prohibited from using cannabis in state correctional facilities, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis, giving cannabis to a person under the age of 21, or giving cannabis as a promotional gift.

Republican opposition

House Republican Press Conference 4/24/23

Republicans also held a press conference Monday morning, where they outlined objections to the bill, which it is expected they will raise again in debate on the House Floor and in offered amendments.

Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Maple Grove) is concerned the bill would not allow local governments to tailor regulations and licensing fees to offset local costs they say would come with legalization, especially in local law enforcement and public health.

“Cities want the ability to regulate the number of licenses in their jurisdiction,” she said, adding the bill is flawed because it prohibits cities from revoking cannabis retail licenses if problems develop.

Since the 1970s, the potency of cannabis has increased significantly, Robbins said, and that these high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol – THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis – would put young people using cannabis at “severe risk” of damaging their still-maturing brains. “There are increases in anxiety, depression, psychosis,” she said.

Local control

Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) offered an amendment that would allow cities to prohibit cannabis businesses from operating within city limits if residents vote to do so.

Stephenson said there is a good amount of local control in the bill, but giving cities and counties the power to completely prohibit cannabis retail stores would just allow the illicit market to flourish.

A major reason for legalization, he said, is to eliminate the illegal market for cannabis.


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