A Minnesota House committee debated and ultimately advanced a cannabis legalization bill with amendments on Wednesday.
The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee debated HF 100 and various amendments, and also heard comments from roughly 30 members of the public. The next stop for the legislation – which has a long road ahead, but a solid shot at passage – will be the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.
Bill sponsor Rep. Zack Stephenson spoke about the legislation at the start of the hearing, saying that Minnesotans “deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves” and that “current laws are doing more harm than good.” Stephenson referenced the millions that state and local governments continue to spend on enforcing cannabis prohibition.
“Our bill will create a safe, well-regulated, legal marketplace where Minnesotans can grow, sell and buy cannabis if they choose to do so. It includes best practices for consumer protection, health and public safety. And critically, it includes robust expungement programs so that people, and we should be clear that it is disproportionately people of color, who have been caught in the criminal justice system due to cannabis offenses, are able to move on with their lives,” he said.
Minnesota is an outlier from other states debating adult use cannabis legislation because lawmakers are doing so after a law was passed that allows for the sale of low-THC edibles, catching some lawmakers and local officials off guard, as Cannabis Wire reported. The edibles are allowed to contain up to 50 mg of THC per package, which is typical of what’s sold in many adult use markets.
On Wednesday, the legalization bill advanced with several amendments. One topic that came up among lawmakers several times was the need for local control. Additionally, youth use and consumption during pregnancy or breastfeeding was a topic of concern that was raised. The latter prompted an amendment related to cannabis packaging warning labels.
Of the more than two dozen members of the public who spoke on a wide spectrum of issues, several mentioned fears over an industry that has too high of a financial barrier for them to enter, while others pushed for a strong, equitable foundation. Others expressed serious concern about underage consumption, especially among those with mental health issues.
Alex Hassel, the intergovernmental relations representative for the League of Minnesota Cities, which represents 837 Minnesota cities, told lawmakers that cities have spent “considerable time” over the past year “working to put reasonable regulations in place for the THC edible products that were passed last session with a very narrow regulatory framework, with many implementing licensing ordinances or temporary moratoriums as we seek more guidance and oversight by the state.”
Hassle added that while the League was happy to see that the legislation includes edible products, bringing them into a “much more substantive regulatory framework,” the bill needs improvement to support localities.
As written, the legislation “lacks meaningful involvement and no authority or oversight by local governments. The enforcement of adult use cannabis will fall heavily on local governments and will be a significant time and cost burden,” Hassel said.
The ripples of New York cannabis policy, at least as far as equity is concerned, were heard in the legislative halls of Minnesota during the hearing. Nathan Ratner, co-founder and vice president of The Great Rise, a non-profit focused cannabis policy, research and public education, said that while Minnesota is a “prosperous” state, it has a racial wealth gap that needs to be addressed, which is where cannabis comes in.
“The Minnesota cannabis economy is estimated to grow to more than $1 billion in revenue within the first five years and can be a catalyst to advance equity across our state. I challenge you today to create the most equitable cannabis policy in the country. Currently, it’s New York,” Ratner said. “I challenge you to beat New York,” he added, urging regulators to allocate at least 50% of licenses to equity applicants, which is the ambitious goal that New York lawmakers and regulators have set.
John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, spoke out in opposition to the legalization bill, saying that “legalizing recreational cannabis will make our roadways less safe.”
RaeAnna K. Buchholz, the legislative and coalitions director for Americans for Prosperity, spoke in support of the bill, and applauded the expungement provisions, but called for lower taxes.
“Legalizing the use of recreational cannabis will unleash a new era and a step forward in our state, allowing individuals to take advantage of an emerging market while smothering a black market that is untaxed and unregulated,” Buckles said. “The goal of this legislation should be to stifle and eventually extinguish the illicit market. High taxes will negate this objective [by] upholding the black market as a preferable alternative.”
Dean Rose, president of the Broadway Liquor Outlet, spoke in support of the legislation, and said that the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association is “appreciative” of being included in the bill, which would allow businesses like Rose’s to hold a Lower Potency Edible Product License.
“It is my experience and belief that the public assumes these products would be available in our retail stores for purchase,” Rose said. “We have been entrusted with the ability to sell alcohol and tobacco to individuals of legal age as dictated by law, and common sense dictates that our members should also be allowed to sell the low potency products outlined in the proposed legislation.”