Legal pot bill poised to pass Minn. House

A customer reaches for cannabis products at MedMen.
A customer reaches for cannabis products at MedMen, one of the two Los Angeles-area pot shops that began selling marijuana for recreational use in January 2018. In Minnesota, the DFL-controlled House is expected to pass an adult-use cannabis bill, but the measure faces strong opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate.
David McNew | Getty Images 2018

The Minnesota House will vote for the first time Thursday on the legalization of marijuana for use by adults, which is expected to pass.

The vote on the cannabis measure is significant, but it is also expected to be the end of the road for the legislation this session.

While the DFL-controlled House held 12 hearings on the bill, the Republican-led Senate held none and has no plans to take it up. The session ends Monday.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is the bill’s author. Legalization would help correct racial inequities in the criminal justice system, he said. Black Minnesotans are more often prosecuted for marijuana crimes than whites, even though usage rates are similar.

“It helps to correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities that have been over-policed, who have been targeted for cannabis enforcement to further a policy of prohibition of cannabis that does not work,” Winkler said at a recent committee hearing.

The bill would create a regulated marketplace for cannabis. A new Cannabis Management Board would oversee the regulation. A recent change would direct excess tax revenue from cannabis into a broader tax relief account.

Under the legislation, Minnesotans 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis in public and up to 10 pounds in their personal residence or less in public.

There is also an automatic expungement component. It would wipe clean people’s records for any petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor marijuana convictions.

The DFL bill has gained some Republican support along the way. But most Republicans oppose the bill. Law enforcement groups have generally opposed legalization, citing its possible impact on traffic safety among other reasons. Other opponents have noted that marijuana is illegal under federal law, even though 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it.

“This needs a lot more study,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, during a committee meeting last month. “This bill I don't believe is ready for prime time, and I'm going to ask my members to vote no — because there's a lot more work that needs to be done."

Still, there appears to be enough support in the House to pass the legislation, and a handful of Republicans have supported it as it cleared committees.

Cannabis for medical use has been legal in Minnesota since 2014, but the law allows use only of certain non-plant forms and for qualified conditions.

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