The Potluck

DFL lawmakers hopeful about legalizing marijuana in Minnesota with trifecta

By: - January 5, 2023 3:19 pm

A worker cares for plants at Essence Vegas’ marijuana cultivation facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Democrats introduced a bill Thursday that would legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, kicking off a months-long process to deliver on a central campaign promise.

“Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis … themselves,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, at a press conference. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good.”

The 243-page bill, which DFL lawmakers said will go through extensive vetting, creates a regulated marketplace for marijuana sales and an expungement program for people convicted of marijuana possession, which disproportionately affects people of color.

Commercial sales would be taxed up to 10% under the bill, which would go toward the state’s general fund. Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, said the goal was to not generate revenue from marijuana sales but to tax enough so the state can fund regulation.

DFL lawmakers estimated the taxes could generate up to $150 million annually.

“Our commitment to the health and safety and equity that is encompassed here remains regardless of where that potentially volatile revenue stream lands,” said Gomez, who also chairs the House taxes committee. 

The state has allowed the sale of medical marijuana since 2014 for a limited number of medical conditions. The Democratic House passed a bill to legalize sale of cannabis for recreational use in 2021 after more than a dozen committee hearings.

The bill didn’t progress in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican lawmakers were concerned about an increase in drivers under the influence and a lack of roadside testing for law enforcement.

A few Senate Democrats Thursday said they are optimistic about achieving bipartisan support for the new bill, which may be necessary given Democrat’s one-person majority in the Senate.

“The people of Minnesota have told us that they want regulated adult use cannabis, and while I’m hopeful and will work to get bipartisan support, if we don’t I’m still committed to moving the bill,” said Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, who is leading the marijuana legalization effort in the Senate.

Last session, legislators legalized the sale of low-dose THC edibles and gave regulation power to the state’s Board of Pharmacy — which has five full-time employees assigned to investigate cases of illegal sales. The bill passed largely under-the-radar until the new law went into effect last July when some Republicans indicated they didn’t fully understand the bill when they voted for it.

The bill creates an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the industry. It also grants tribal nations the option to enter into compacts with the state to join the cannabis marketplace and create their own cannabinoid products.

“This is a racial justice issue and … the harm that’s been done to communities of color needs to end,” said Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, on Thursday. “We are committed to getting this done.”

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.