Cannabis bill clears Minnesota legislature, on to the Governor’s office

The Minnesota Legislature voted to legalize recreational cannabis Saturday — it now heads to Governor Walz’ desk for a signature.

Once Walz signs the bill — and he said he will — cannabis will be legalized and related misdemeanors will be expunged starting in August.

The Senate passed the bill overnight, with the House passing it Thursday. The original bill passed Senate in April and a conference committee produced the version that was passed overnight.

Minnesotans will need to be 21 to buy marijuana, and there will be a 10% sales tax.

House File 100 passed 34-32, right along party lines, with one Republican abstaining from the vote.

“While many Minnesotans are increasingly supportive of legalization of cannabis, this bill is not ready,” Sen. Jordan Rasmusson(R-Fergus Falls), who was the Senate Republican on the bill’s conference committee, said in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Saturday. “It will make our roads less safe, limit local decision-making for our communities, put our kids’ health at risk, and grow government with more than 100 new bureaucrats to enforce convoluted licensing regulations. It’s simply wrong for the Democrats to plow ahead with legislation they know will require fixing in the very near future.”

Sen. Lindsey Port(DFL-Burnsville) penned the Senate’s version of the bill. She acknowledged it will take some time for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to clear prior marijuana-related misdemeanor convictions, but said that the goal is to have it done by the end of the year, or by spring of 2024.

“There’s not just a ‘Ctrl + F’ and you can find all the cannabis misdemeanors and expunge them,” she said.

For felony convictions, expungement or re-sentencing is still possible, but will take even longer as state officials look at each one on a case-by-case basis.

“Still, we’re hopeful within a year or so,” Sen. Port said.

While it will take a while to set up a system of dispensaries in the state, Minnesotans will be able to possess and even home-grow a certain amount of the plant.

This creates a kind of gray space for law enforcement.

“Yeah, you know, it is a gray space, and we acknowledge that.” Port responded. “But…the system of prohibition has not worked.”

Sen. Port said she’s hopeful that in the meantime, possessing a legal amount of the plant won’t result in citations or questions about where it came from.

“What we’re moving towards is decriminalization,” she emphasized.

“Not one agency, not one law enforcement person will tell you this is going to benefit our state,” said Senator John Jasinski(R-Faribault) during the floor debate.

Port said that Minnesotans will be able to apply to open a dispensary in around eight to 10 months. She added that legislature is hoping to have dispensaries start opening by the beginning of 2025, which will be handled by the state’s new Office of Cannabis Management.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Rasmusson also raised concerns early Saturday that legalizing cannabis would exacerbate an existing drug and behavioral health crisis in Minnesota.

Port responded, “I really reject the premise of that. But I will say that this bill does extensive things to ensure that as we are setting up a legal market, we’re doing so as safely as possible. There is 10s of millions of dollars for education for youth, for adults, for pregnant and breastfeeding folks. There are 10s of millions of dollars for prevention, treatment and recovery services for substance use. There are millions of dollars at the U of M for health research around this and there are local health grants to communities.”