Adult use has moved farther than ever before in the Minnesota legislature, but with the session’s end just days away, and the Republican-controlled Senate still opposed, it remains unlikely to cross the finish line.
The House passed a legalization bill by a 72-61 vote on Thursday night after hours of debate during which several lawmakers said that with days left in the session, more energy should be focused on the budget and post-pandemic economic recovery.
“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure. The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color and especially Black Minnesotans,” Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said at the start of Thursday’s hearing on HF 600, which would legalize cannabis for adults and expunge qualifying cannabis-related crimes. A fiscal note estimates that the state’s industry could support 2,700 business licensees in 2026.
Last year, Winkler introduced a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use, HF 4632, but the bill quickly died with the session’s end. Winkler acknowledged the timing, considering the pandemic, saying in a statement at the time, as Cannabis Wire reported, “Our current priority is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic” but “we made a commitment to introduce legislation this session, and we wanted to follow through on that commitment.”
This session, Winkler reintroduced the bill as HF 600, and it had to advance out of more than a dozen committees before reaching the House floor this week.
Winkler has been cleared eyed on the bill’s chance of passage, but has nonetheless persisted in pushing it through the legislature. During an event in February, hosted by US Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, and with US Rep. Barbara Lee, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Winkler noted that “the Senate leader has expressed on multiple occasions his opposition to supporting the bill,” as Cannabis Wire reported at the time. But, he added, “a lot of Republicans, in fact, do support the bill. So our strategy is based on demonstrating strong support from Democrats, but also showing that Republicans want to have a chance to vote on the bill and want to have an opportunity to see if we can get it passed.”
While the potential for revenue is a major talking point for some elected officials, Winkler said right off the bat that one of the goals of his legislation is “to have cannabis pay for itself.”
“We are not seeking to raise revenue to pay for other things in government. We are using the revenue to pay for the costs of regulating cannabis itself, providing additional resources for substance abuse treatment, providing additional resources for law enforcement, drug recognition expert training, provide additional resources for public health, to make sure that the communities most adversely affected by the war on drugs are able to participate in the business upside.”
Winkler said that many of the amendments brought forth by Republican lawmakers would be accepted. One that came up early was from Rep. Tony Jurgens which was on the topic of increased funding for Drug Recognition Experts as well as additional phlebotomy training for officers who might need to draw blood to test for THC-related impairment.
Other proposed amendments included the launch of a pilot project related to an oral test for impairment, increased funding for substance use treatment and prevention, a proposal to block sharing of medical or adult use cannabis-related data with federal agencies, and protecting medical cannabis patients who want to buy guns.
Rep. Nolan West brought forward an amendment allowing jurisdictions to opt out of cannabis sales, which prompted extended discussion and a narrow roll call vote of 68-64.
“I think accepting this amendment will give a lot of comfort to people who are opposed to cannabis legislation if this were to become law,” West said.
Winkler responded by using Colorado as an example to illustrate that in counties that opted out of cannabis sales, they had increased illicit market activity.
“One of the things that we learned from the experience of other states as they have legalized cannabis is that local opt outs makes it certain, it makes it a guarantee, that the illicit marketplace for cannabis will continue,” Winkler said. “They weren’t able to stop it. They made it almost impossible instead to move from an illicit marketplace to a legal, regulated marketplace. So this bill very intentionally did not allow local opt out.”
Winkler added, however, that localities could use zoning rules to control aspects of where sales occur and hours of operation.
A recurring point on Thursday night in Minnesota, as has been true in other states where medical and adult use debates are ongoing: neighboring states are moving, or have already moved, toward legal cannabis.
“The fact remains that as our surrounding states move towards legalization, and as it becomes more and more the standard around the nation for cannabis to be legal, Minnesota will not be able to remain an island. Cannabis products are growing in popularity. They are growing in variety,” Winkler said. “More and more people, and I bet in your own life, have used cannabis for personal reasons. It can be done safely and we cannot stand back and hope that it doesn’t happen here. The fact of the matter is legalization is coming and it’s better to get out in front of the issue and address it.”