10 things to know about Minnesota’s new marijuana law

A man smokes a joint
Minnesota is the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Pablo Vera | Getty Images

Minnesota is now the 23rd state to make it legal for adults to use marijuana recreationally.  

That means a lot will change in the next few months and years. Soon it will be legal to grow and smoke marijuana. Cities and counties must allow licensed cannabis shops to open. People with certain marijuana convictions will have them effectively erased. 

MPR News host Angela Davis talked with Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, who sponsored the bill and Beau Kilmer, the McCauley Chair in Drug Policy Innovation at RAND, a non-partisan think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif.

The three discussed this shift in attitude towards and policy about marijuana as well as what the new law means for people who use cannabis products and those who do not. 

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Here are 10 key questions and answers about the new Minnesota cannabis law.

What does this new law say about tribal medical marijuana dispensaries?

Port: We really wanted to make sure we respected the sovereignty of our tribal nations here in Minnesota. So all of the tribal ability to do their medical marijuana programs or get into the recreational side is able to be done to their specifications through compacting. So that is sort of the agreements that they make with the state government and tribal governments each year or each couple of years. We don't restrict it in any way in the bill. We say that is all a decision that their sovereign nations make with the governor, and they are able to be in control of that.

What does the law say about expungement?

Port: If you have a misdemeanor possession, conviction on your record, it will be automatically expunged. And if you have a felony conviction for sale or for possession, it will be looked at by a board individually on a case-by-case basis to see if it should be resentenced into something smaller or expunged altogether based on the circumstances.

Expungements will happen even for non-citizens.

Kilmer: The fact that [the law] allows for automatic expungement, I think it's a really big deal. You know, when Washington and Colorado first legalized, you know, 10 years ago, expungement wasn't part of the conversation. And then over time, as other states legalize, they began to allow some offenses to be expunged.

But oftentimes, they would still put the onus on the individual, you know, they would have to petition the court, they might have to hire a lawyer, right. And, you know, in depending on the amount of resources you have, you know, that would determine whether or not you could actually have the offense expunged. But by making it automatic, and kind of putting the onus on the state. Now, that's a big deal. And that's going to make it much more impactful for Minnesotans.

Are there any restrictions on where you can use cannabis?

Port: That's gonna depend city to city. In August, cities will be able to decide if they want you to be able to use in public spaces, like at parks. So a city can adopt a local ordinance just like they can for smoking.

Just like you can for cigarettes, people can ban smoking, cities can ban smoking on public grounds, have non-smoking areas, things like that. And that will be the same for public consumption. You also can't consume it in your motor vehicle, just like alcohol. And then the final place where there's a restriction is on smoking in multifamily units like apartment buildings.

You can still use edibles, tinctures, oils, but there is a ban on smoking. Many landlords banned smoking in buildings anyway. But that was a public health concern that we addressed in the bill.

What are the rules to grow cannabis in an outside garden?

Port: You are able to grow eight plants and up to four of them flowering at any one time. So you can grow out in your garden, you can grow inside, it doesn't matter. It does need to be sort of cordoned off. So you need to put a little fence or something around it if you are growing outside in a visible place. But you are able to grow in your backyard or under grow lights inside.

Kilmer: Most of the places that have passed legalization in the U.S. also allow some form of home growing. Now, in some places it may be six plants, in some places, it may be more, but also this idea of having some plants that are flowering and some plants that aren't, that's pretty consistent.

Can employers prohibit the use of marijuana by their employees?

Port: So we specified a group of safety-related jobs. If you care for children, if you care for medical patients, if you drive a truck, if you drive a school bus, sort of those safety-dependent jobs — and there's a list of them in the bill — then your employer can still do regular drug testing. They do have to let you know that they will continue to do regular drug testing or if they're going to.

But if you have a job outside of that, so you work in retail or you work in manufacturing or at a warehouse and you are not in one of those safety-related jobs, you are able to use cannabis in your off time.

Obviously, you can't use it while at work, your employer can still prohibit that and just like you couldn't show up to work intoxicated on alcohol, you also can’t and your employer could fire you for showing up intoxicated on marijuana.

Will research be done about the impact of legalization?

Kilmer: As a researcher, one of the things I really liked about the bill is that it allocated over $3 million to the University of Minnesota to set up a center for cannabis research.

Port: The University of Minnesota research grants, specifically, will document both use and public health effects, but also the different products and the different types of cannabis that are out there and how they affect public health and public consumption plans.

We also have a baseline survey in here, which will be done over the next year, so that we can get exactly that: What are folks using now? And how is that going to change then once the stores open? And we'll do another survey after the stores open so that we understand the public health outcomes and how we can best address them.

There's over $5 million in this bill for studies and surveys to make sure that we are getting accurate information from broad public health, but also from youth: how are youth using? And how does that change with legalization?

Does legalizing cannabis affect youth use?

Kilmer: Typically, what researchers would do is they would look at the states that legalized it and compare them to the states that didn't legalize it. Early on, you only had a few states, you didn't have a lot of data. I would say the early research on this suggested that as states legalized, it didn't really have much of an effect on what we would call “past-month prevalence.” That is, did you use in the past month? And so the research tended to suggest that legalization doesn't have much of an effect on past month use, or may even decrease it.

That said, there was a new study that came out a little less than a year ago, which was much more rigorous and used additional years of data. And they actually found that when states adopted recreational marijuana laws and they had dispensaries, that it increased the past-month prevalence by 15 percent.

But we need to step back and say: well, do we really care about the past month’s prevalence in terms of when we're thinking about the health consequences? A lot of what we need to do is not just whether or not somebody used in the past month, but how frequently were they using, what products were they using and this is where the surveys that Sen. Port referenced I think are gonna be really helpful.

The takeaway is we have a lot to learn about how cannabis legalization affects problem use.

Are there some provisions that will make it more equitable for people who want to start a business?

Port: We know that communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition. So we wanted to make sure with this bill, that they're also able to really take advantage of being a part of this brand new industry. So there are social equity applications, for folks who live in a community that has been disproportionately harmed by cannabis and who have been personally harmed by cannabis [policy].

So if you have a past cannabis conviction, you're able to apply under this, if you live in an area that has been sort of over-policed, you are able to apply under this social equity application, and those jump to the beginning of the line, those are really given sort of higher preference in licensing. So we want to make sure that those folks across our state are able to get licenses to open those dispensaries.

How will tax revenue from marijuana sales be used?

Port: We kept our taxes pretty low. That was an ongoing choice that we made because we didn't want to outprice the legal market from the illicit market. So the tax rate is at 10 percent, and 20 percent of that goes to local communities, so cities and counties, to help with enforcement, public health, things like that.

We really worked in partnership with the cities and counties to make sure that they had the resources to appropriately monitor regulations. The rest of it goes into the general fund to continue to build our state's ability to provide the services that our residents need.

Will marijuana prices in Minnesota go down?

Port: We absolutely expect the cost to go down with the recreational program, knowing that availability, demand and supply will massively increase across the state. Right now there are only two medical marijuana companies in Minnesota. So with the creation of a whole industry that will be able to sell, we absolutely expect the cost to go down significantly.

Also, starting in July, we’re lowering medical patients’ annual fee or registration fee to zero. We want to make sure that folks have access to their medical marijuana as easily as possible and we understand cost has been very prohibitive here in Minnesota.

We did put things in place to start driving that cost down and opening up not just the recreational market but also the medical market to new companies.

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Correction (June 9, 2023): This story's seventh question has been updated to reflect its focus on youth cannabis use.