Cannabis bill clears first committee in Minn. House

Marijuana plants grow at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a Los Angeles not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006. In Minnesota, lawmakers have given their first-ever endorsement to a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana.
David McNew | Getty Images file

Minnesota lawmakers have given their first-ever endorsement to a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana.

Members of the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to advance the measure. DFL members supported the measure while Republicans did not.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the goal of his bill is to create a safe and legal marketplace for adults to use cannabis.

“From a health perspective, from a racial equity perspective, from a criminal justice reform perspective, from just being able to do a better job of regulating a product that can be used responsibly, it’s time for Minnesota to change its cannabis laws,” Winkler said.

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The bill sets up a regulatory framework for adult use cannabis and establishes taxes. A new Cannabis Management Board would be created to oversee recreational use as well as the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

Other sections of the bill, such as the expungement of marijuana-related criminal offences will be heard by another House committee during a future hearing.

Supporters and opponents testified during the remote hearing. Marcus Harcus, of Minneapolis, was among those who spoke in favor of the bill.

“Cannabis is a healing plant, not a dangerous drug,” Harcus said. “The most dangerous thing about cannabis is getting caught with it.”

Ryan Hamilton, of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, was among those who spoke against the bill.

“It’s a bad bill for adolescents, it’s bad for our brothers and sisters with substance abuse problems, it’s bad for those who use our highways, and it’s bad for the common good,” Hamilton said.

Gov. Tim Walz supports the effort. But the bill faces several hurdles, including strong opposition in the Senate. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, has repeatedly said he does not support legalization. Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, is the chief sponsor of the companion bill in the Senate.

Winkler introduced the same bill last session, but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way and it was set aside. He crafted the legislation with the input he gathered through a series of meetings throughout the state.

The chair of the committee, Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, commended Winkler for that effort.

“The people of Minnesota should be really proud of the way that you have approached this issue and the work product that’s been developed because of it,” Stephenson said.