Bipartisan and bicameral Minnesota lawmakers will hold their first conference committee meeting on Friday to begin resolving differences between marijuana legalization bills that passed the House and Senate last month.
Rep. Zack Stephenson (D), sponsor of the House version, announced the meeting on Wednesday, saying legislators “are making great progress” in informal discussions ahead of the meeting.
The cannabis conference committee will have our first meeting on Friday morning. We are making great progress and @Lindsey_Port and I are excited to finish the job!
— Zack Stephenson (@zackstephenson) May 10, 2023
He and Sen. Lindsey Port (D), the Senate bill sponsor, are “excited to finish the job,” he said.
While the bills were identical as introduced earlier this year, both went through an extensive committee process in their respective chambers, with lawmakers making various amendments along the way.
After they were separately approved on the House and Senate floors, bipartisan legislators, including the sponsors, were selected as negotiators to hash out differences and reach an agreement on a final product.
The measures are still fundamentally the same, proposing to legalize marijuana and regulate an adult-use market, but there are key differences that will need to be settled in conference, including reaching a deal on the tax rate for cannabis as well as on issues like possession limits and local control.
The legislative session closes out on May 22, so negotiators will need to move relatively quickly. It’s not clear how many times the conference committee will need to meet before their work is complete.
Once lawmakers come up with a final product, the revised bill will need to go back for votes in both chambers before it’s sent to the governor.
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who released an biennial budget request in January that included proposed funding to implement marijuana legalization and expungements, has already pledged to sign the legislation when he receives it.
With majorities in both the House and Senate and control over the governorship this session, Democratic-Farmer-Labor party officials have been expressing confidence that legalization will be enacted this year.
The legislation that advanced through both chambers is an iteration of the 2021 House-passed bill from former Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who now serves as campaign chairman of the advocacy coalition MN is Ready.
The governor has called on supporters to join lawmakers and the administration in their push legalize marijuana this session, and he circulated an email blast in January that encourages people to sign a petition backing the reform.
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess in public up to two ounces of cannabis and they would be allowed to cultivate up to eight plants at home, four of which could be mature.
The House bill would allow people to possess up to 1.5 pounds in a private dwelling, while the Senate bill would let people have up to five pounds of self-cultivated cannabis at home and up to two pounds derived from any other source.
Gifting up to two ounces of marijuana without remuneration between adults would be permitted.
Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief and process the expungements.
In addition to creating a system of licensed cannabis businesses, municipalities and counties could own and operate government dispensaries.
On-site consumption permits could be approved for events, and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill.
Local governments would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas, though they could set “reasonable” regulations on the time of operation and location of those businesses. The Senate bill contains a provision that would allow local governments to limit the number of cannabis business licenses based on population size.
Under the House bill, cannabis sales would be taxed at eight percent—and thereafter, the commissioner of management and budget would adjust the rate every two years so that revenues equal, or do not significantly exceed, the costs of implementing legalization incurred by various agencies. The Senate bill calls for a 10 percent tax rate on marijuana sales that would not change over time.
Part of the tax revenue would fund substance misuse treatment programs, as well as grants to support farmers.
A new Office of Cannabis Management would be established, and it would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. There would be a designated Division of Social Equity.
The legislation would promote social equity, in part by ensuring diverse licensing by scoring equity applicants higher. People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing, and the House bill says that people convicted of cannabis offenses, or who have an immediate family member with such a conviction, would also qualify.
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The House bill was vetted by numerous committees before reaching the floor. It passed the Ways and Means Committee, Taxes Committee, Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, Human Services Policy Committee, Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee, Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee (twice).
The Senate committees that have signed off on the bill are the Finance Committee, Taxes Committee, Rules and Administration Committee, State and Local Government and Veterans Committee, Labor Committee, Human Services Committee, Health and Human Services Committee, Transportation Committee, Environment, Climate, and Legacy Committee, Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee, Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee (twice).
Following their election win in November, Democrats internally agreed to discuss the issue imminently.
Two polls released in September found that the majority of Minnesota residents support adult-use marijuana legalization—and one survey showed that even more Minnesotans approve of the state’s move to legalize THC-infused edibles that was enacted last year.
A survey conducted by officials with the House at the annual State Fair that was released in September also found majority support for legalization. That legislature-run poll found that 61 percent of Minnesotans back legalizing cannabis for adult use.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, the House separately passed an omnibus health bill last month that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
The large-scale Senate legislation was amended in the House earlier this month to include language from a standalone psychedelics measure sponsored by Rep. Andy Smith (D). The proposal is expected to move to a bicameral conference committee, where members will reconcile differences between the House and Senate proposals.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.