Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved In Fourth Senate Committee, With More Votes Set For This Week

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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved In Fourth Senate Committee, With More Votes Set For This Week
07-Feb-23 04:48:09

A fourth Minnesota Senate committee has approved a bill to legalize marijuana, another step along its extended journey to the floor as a House companion also continues to advance.

The Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee passed the legislation from Sen. Lindsey Port (D) in a 5-4 vote. The measure is expected to go through a total of 18 panels in the chamber.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Erin Murphy (D) said at the beginning of Monday’s hearing that Minnesota has “an opportunity to undo some of the harm that has been done and to create a system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and Minnesota businesses while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”

“Our main goals are to legalize, regulate and expunge—and we’re working to ensure that this bill does just that,” the senator said, adding that there are ongoing discussions about possible amendments to further improve on aspects of the legislation such as tax policy for the state’s existing hemp industry.

On the House side, the bill is being sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (D) and has advanced through six committees so far. Its next stop is the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, which is scheduled to take up the proposal on Wednesday.

With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials are confident that legalization will be enacted in short order following the extensive committee consideration.

The governor recently released his biennial budget request, which included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, and made projections about the millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue that his office estimates the state will earn after the reform is enacted.

The legislation, meanwhile, is an iteration of the 2021 House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready. That group announced last month that it would be lobbying for the measure while leading a grassroots effort to build support for reform.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast this month that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.

Much of the revised bills that are advancing through committee are consistent with Winkler’s legislation, though there are a few key changes, in addition to the newly adopted amendments. For example, it adds a new license category for businesses that sell “lower-potency edible products” under Minnesota’s unique THC law that the governor signed last year.

There would also be reduced regulatory requirements for those licensees, and they’d be able to permit on-site consumption if they have a liquor license, which is meant to ensure that shops currently selling low-THC beverages and edibles don’t face disruption.

At Monday’s Senate committee hearing, members approved an amendment requested by the agriculture department that would make it so regulators could not approve cannabis products that are “substantively similar” to meat, poultry or dairy products. Further, regulators would need to consult with the state agriculture commissioner on rules for agricultural chemicals.

The revision additionally includes a technical change to ensure that cannabis producers follow rules for fertilizers, soil amendments, plant amendments and other inputs in addition to those that are in place for pesticides.

Another amendment that was approved removes a prohibition on genetically engineered cannabis from the bill.

Members also adopted an amendment to remove cultivation and harvesting equipment from the definition of cannabis paraphernalia and to make a technical change to clarify that plant canopy sizes for cultivation tiers are measured in square feet.

An additional approved amendment requires officials to report geographic information on grants and loans issued under the CanGrow program, as well as information on the repayment rate for loans and for loans forgiven.

The committee defeated amendments to give more flexibility to farmers to use pesticides and to clarify that cannabis farmers wouldn’t need to track fertilizers and other chemicals as part of record logs.

The next stop for the legislation on the Senate side is the Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee on Thursday.