A conference committee finished finalizing Minnesota’s marijuana legalization bill Tuesday morning, crafting a bill that the state House of Representatives and Senate will vote on before the legislative session ends next week.
“To get this bill to this place is enormous, and I am grateful for it,” Representative Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said at the end of the conference committee meeting Tuesday. “Minnesota will be better for it.”
Stephenson sponsored the House version of the bill.
Senator Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, celebrated the “huge team effort” required to reconcile differences in the House and Senate marrijuana bills.
“Representative Stephenson and I remain absolutely committed to getting this bill passed this year,” Port said.
The bill, which is widely expected to be voted through and sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, could be voted on by the end of this week or early next week. Governor Tim Walz has said he will sign a bill if it reaches his desk.
The Minnesota Revisor’s Office will likely take one or two days to draft the final legislation to include all the changes from the conference committee. Three House members and three Senate members from the conference committee must then sign off on it.
The House and Senate must vote to approve the final bill before the Legislature adjourns on Tuesday, May 22.
“The votes will happen,” Stephenson wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “This bill will pass. We will get the job done.”
If passed, legal recreational marijuana would go into effect on August 1 of this year, although marijuana dispensaries aren’t expected to be up and running until several months afterwards.
Here are some of the bill’s key measures the conference committee agreed to over the past week:
- Marijuana possession limits will be limited to two ounces per person in public and two pounds per household. The House bill originally allowed 1.5 pounds per household while the Senate originally allowed 5 pounds.
- Marijuana sales will be taxed at a state rate of 10 percent, reflecting the original Senate bill. The House bill originally proposed taxing marijuana at 8 percent.
- The state’s two multi-state operators that currently produce and sell marijuana in the state’s medical marijuana program will be allowed to produce up to 30,000 square feet of marijuana facilities and sell it recreationally.
- Local municipalities will be able to limit the number of marijuana licenses sold in their jurisdictions based on the city’s population. They’ll also be allowed to limit and bar the location of marijuana dispensaries in relation to places like schools and churches.
The social equity measures in the final version of the bill remain similar to what they’ve been throughout the legislative process. Petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors from previous marijuana convictions will be automatically expunged. Gross misdemeanors and felonies from previous marijuana convictions will be considered for removal on a case-by-case basis by an expungement board.
Aspiring marijuana entrepreneurs from low-income zip codes will be given a weighted score to boost their chances of obtaining a business license. So will people who’ve been previously convicted of marijuana possession or sale offenses, as well as National Guard members who were discharged based on a marijuana offense. The latter group was added to the definition of “social equity applicant” during Monday’s conference committee meeting.
“It’s so important throughout this bill that the folks who have been most harmed by prohibition are actually able to access this market,” Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul, said during Monday’s meeting. “I’m really excited about how this has come together.”
Although Minnesota is on track to become the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana, not all advocates are completely thrilled with the bill’s final outcome.
Maren Schroeder, policy director for the pro-legalization group Sensible Change Minnesota, took to Twitter to bemoan the discrepancy between the possession limits stipulated in the bill and the amount of marijuana plants the bill allows people to grow in their home.
“That’s right! Over 2 lbs takes you straight to a first degree cannabis possession crime—a felony with up to 5 years incarceration,” she Tweeted in part.
While the possession limit will be two pounds per household, the bill allows people to grow up to eight marijuana plants, including four mature plants, in their home or yard. One plant can yield as much as one pound of marijuana, experts say, which potentially could put people in a precarious legal situation. Possessing more than two pounds of marijuana is considered a felony under the bill.
“If you’re growing in your backyard and law enforcement sees the size of your plants, that could create probable cause for a felony charge, which can lead to a search warrant and a raid of someone’s home,” Schroeder told Sahan Journal in an interview.
She noted that other states that have contradicting possession and plant growth limits exempt plant growth from the possession limit.
Ideally, Shroeder said, no marijuana offenses of any kind would be considered felonies with a legal market. The states that legalized marijuana but kept felony offenses saw racial disparities increase, she added.
Schroeder also criticized the measure that will allow the state’s two medical marijuana providers to grow recreational marijuana on 30,000-square-foot plots of land in addition to the 60,000-square-foot plots where they are allowed to grow medical marijuana. That will open the door for big marijuana businesses to dominate local businesses in the future, she said.
Under the bill, a new business that wants to grow and sell both recreational and medical marijuana will be limited to 15,000 square feet of land.
However, Schroeder said the bill is a good step for the state.
“It’s a net-positive with its downfalls,” she said. “It could have been a much bigger win. Hopefully we can get some commitments from the authors in the coming days and weeks to fix some of these issues in the next session.”