The first conference committee to finalize a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota will convene at 9:30 a.m. Friday, and will allow attendance and written comments from the public.
The public will not be allowed to speak at the meeting, but can submit written statements by 9 p.m. Thursday, May 11. The comments can be emailed to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and must be submitted in PDF format.
The conference committee will meet in Room G-23 of the State Capitol.
Representative Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, wrote on Twitter that he expects the conference committee to meet more than once this month to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session, May 22, to come up with a final bill.
Last month, Senator Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told Sahan Journal that she wanted the conference committee process to be open to the public.
“This will be one of the most closely watched conference committees in a while, so we are intending to make it as transparent as possible,” she said at the time.
Conference committees in the past 10 years haven’t been very open, said Peter Wattson, who served as general counsel for the state Senate for four decades.
According to Wattson: Typically, conference committees will hold the first meeting publicly and read over the details of the bill. They will then iron out the differences behind closed doors in subsequent meetings, leaving the debate over how they came to an agreement private. The committee must then publicly vote on the final bill.
Conference committees can meet in private as long as they do not have a quorum, which consists of all 10 committee members.
“If the marijuana committee holds more than one meeting before the public, that will be a good sign,” Wattson said.
The key differences between the House and Senate bills center on issues like proposed tax rates and personal possession limits for legal marijuana.
Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for the pro-legalization group MN is Ready, previously told Sahan Journal that her coalition felt good about the two bills going into conference committee.
“A lot of the differences between the two versions of the bill are not ideological in nature,” she said last month after the Senate voted to approve a legalization bill. “We feel good going into it. Legislators have demonstrated they’re really committed to working in good faith to come up with the best policy.”
Both bills offer similar provisions on issues like equity. That includes the automatic expungement of all petty misdemeanor convictions for marijuana, and consideration for expungement of marijuana felonies. The bills also give entrepreneurs from disadvantaged areas a weighted score in a system for obtaining marijuana business licenses.
Jack Dockendorf, a legislative assistant to Stephenson, said the committee will likely start by approving provisions that are similar in both bills before ironing out the differences.
Some of the differences between both bills that must get resolved include:
- The state gross receipts tax rate of marijuana, which is the state sales tax consumers will pay when they buy marijuana. The Senate bill taxes marijuana at a 10 percent rate and the House bill taxes the product at 8 percent.
- Personal possession limits on marijuana. The Senate bill caps possession at 1.5 pounds per person while the House bill sets it at 5 pounds. Advocates are pushing for the 5-pound limit.
- Local control. Neither bill allows cities or counties to explicitly ban marijuana sales. The House bill allows cities to ban the consumption of marijuana in public areas like parks. However, the Senate bill goes further, allowing cities to limit the number of marijuana licenses based on the city’s population. The Senate bill also allows cities to set zoning requirements that would regulate the location of marijuana dispensaries in relation to schools and churches.
Senate members of the conference committee include bill sponsors Stephenson and Senator Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, as well as Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul; Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul; Susan Pha, DFL-Brooklyn Park; and Jordan Rassmussen, R-Fergus Falls.
The House members on the conference committee are Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul; Jess Hanson, DFL-Burnsville; Alicia Kozlowski, DFL-Duluth; Nolan West, R-Blaine.
How to attend the conference committee and submit your opinions:
What: Select members of the Senate and House will meet in conference committee to iron out the differences between their two bills to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. The meeting is open for public viewing.
Where: Room G-23 of the State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, St Paul, MN 55155.
When: 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 12. Additional meetings are expected in the future; the dates have not been announced.
How: The public can submit written comments by emailing them to either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Statements must be submitted in PDF format. The public cannot comment verbally at the meeting.