Minnesota lawmakers start down path to legalizing marijuana

Jan 11, 2023, 12:30 AM | Updated: 2:52 pm
FILE - Cultivator Hunter Rogness prunes fan leaves from marijuana plants in the Leafline Labs grow ...

FILE - Cultivator Hunter Rogness prunes fan leaves from marijuana plants in the Leafline Labs grow center in Cottage Grove, Minn., Feb. 21, 2019. The Minnesota Legislature embarked on a path toward legalizing recreational marijuana on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, when a legislative committee held the first hearing of the year on a bill that backers say is designed to avoid the pitfalls experienced by states that have already legalized it. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File)

(Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Legislature embarked on a path toward legalizing recreational marijuana for adults Wednesday when a legislative committee held the first hearing of the year on a bill that backers say is designed to avoid the pitfalls experienced by states that have already legalized it.

The bill is an updated version of one that passed the Minnesota House in 2021 with some bipartisan support but died in the state Senate, which was then under Republican control. Now that both chambers have Democratic majorities, sponsors say they are confident they can put the bill on the desk of Democratic Gov Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign it.

The House commerce committee approved the bill on a voice vote and sent it to the next of what are expected to be a dozen committees in the chamber that will scrutinize the bill. It faces a long journey in the Senate, too.

“Minnesotans are ready. Cannabis should not be illegal in Minnesota,” said the lead author, Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, who chairs the committee. “Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves, Our current laws are doing more harm than good.”

President Joe Biden’s announcement in October that that he will pardon thousands of people convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession has given a new impetus to legalization effort in states across the country. Maryland and Missouri legalized adult-use cannabis via ballot measures in 2022, making a total of 21 states that, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana, according to a tally by the National Council of State Legislatures.

Legal sales began Tuesday in Connecticut. New York’s first licensed dispensary opened two weeks ago. Voters will decide March 7 whether to legalize it Oklahoma.

Stephenson called his bill a “Minnesota-specific model” that draws lessons from the mixed experiences of other states that have tried to replace the illicit marketplace for cannabis and related products. And he said it includes “a robust expungement program” so that people convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, who are disproportionately people of color, can move on with their lives.

The plan’s chief architect is Democratic former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who shepherded it through three years of development before the House passed it in 2021. Now out of office, he is the volunteer chairman of the MN Is Ready Action Campaign, which hopes to bring it across the finish line.

“The biggest policy goal of the bill is to shift an illegal marketplace into a legal, regulated marketplace,” Winkler said at a briefing for reporters Tuesday. “The state is not looking to raise huge amounts of money from this cannabis market.”

Winkler said backers have learned from problems experienced by other states, such as California and Oregon, where high taxes and tough regulations have complicated efforts to develop functional legal marketplaces for cannabis and perpetuated illicit sales of cheaper illegal products, while making it hard for small growers to make a profit.

Retail marijuana sales would be subject only to an 8% tax, in addition to Minnesota’s existing sales tax, which is about 7% depending on the community. The idea is to just cover the costs of regulating cannabis, he said, not to generate revenues for other governmental programs.

“It’s very easy, as we’ve seen in other states, for a significant illicit marketplace to continue if taxes are too high or regulations are too unwieldly,” Winkler said. “So we’re trying to avoid the big mistakes made in places like California where they basically cemented in huge illegal marketplaces.”

Critics of the plan testified that it would lead to more substance abuse in Minnesota with serious social and public safety consequences. Representatives of counties and cities urged the committee to ensure that local communities will have the power to regulate sales of cannabis, as they do for alcohol and tobacco.

Ryan Hamilton, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, testified that for every person harmed by the war on drugs who gets redemption from expungement, “countless children, adolescents, and vulnerable adults” will be harmed by the normalization of drug use.

“No amount of regulation can curtail the damage that today’s high-potency recreational marijuana will do to Minnesota families and our quality of life,” Hamilton said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, is urging Democrats not to rush the process.

“We need to hear from law enforcement, employers, addiction counselors, educators, and others who have concerns about legalizing marijuana,” Johnson said in a statement last week. “We know that even small changes in this area of law can lead to huge changes in the market and in people’s practices. We don’t take the risks that marijuana poses to youth, minorities, and the vulnerable, lightly.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Paul Njoroge, right, points to photos of his wife and three children that were killed in the 2019 c...
Associated Press

Boeing pleads not guilty in case over deadly Max crashes

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Boeing pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge that it misled regulators who approved its 737 Max, the plane that was involved in two crashes that killed 346 people. Family members of passengers who died gave emotional testimony, calling for criminal prosecution of top Boeing officials. The families are trying […]
18 hours ago
abortion Capital gains tax Olympia meeting legislature abortion...
Associated Press

Washington lawmakers hear testimony on 7 abortion bills

Abortion rights proposals have been front and center in Olympia, Washington, this week as state lawmakers heard hours of public testimony on seven proposals that would reinforce abortion access.
18 hours ago
FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at t...
Gene Johnson, Associated Press

Justices weigh effort to balance Washington state’s tax code

SEATTLE (AP) — An effort to balance what is considered the nation’s most regressive state tax code came before the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday, with justices hearing arguments about whether they should overturn a prohibition on income taxes that dates to the 1930s. Washington is one of nine states without an income tax, and […]
18 hours ago
FILE - In this April 4, 2017, file photo, fountains erupt along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas. A...
Associated Press

Lawsuit: Vegas Strip resorts used vendor to fix hotel rates

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal lawsuit in Nevada is seeking class-action damages for countless hotel patrons who booked rooms in Las Vegas since 2019, alleging that most hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have used a third-party vendor to illegally fix prices. The complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleges […]
18 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Associated Press

Police: Oregon fugitive kidnapped woman like 2019 Vegas case

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Police in southern Oregon were searching Thursday for a man accused of torturing a woman he held captive less than two years after he was convicted in Nevada of critically injuring another woman he held captive for two weeks. Police Chief Warren Hensman, of Grants Pass, Oregon, said in a telephone […]
18 hours ago
Brittany Lampkin of Yazoo County, extolls the Mississippi Black Women's Roundtable legislative agen...
Associated Press

Maternal deaths and disparities increase in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Deaths from pregnancy complications have become more prevalent in Mississippi, and racial disparities in the health of those who give birth have widened in recent years, according to a report released Thursday by the state’s Department of Health. The Mississippi Maternal Mortality Report shows that the maternal mortality rate increased by […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Minnesota lawmakers start down path to legalizing marijuana