Minnesota’s latest and perhaps most-promising debate around marijuana legalization to date begins Wednesday when a House committee starts dissecting a 243-page bill that would enable use by those 21 and older.
The legislation has a considerable path to travel in the House and Senate, where the DFL now holds slim majorities.
The comprehensive plan is two major endeavors rolled into one: It would decriminalize possession and use of marijuana with some exceptions and start a process of expunging the records of people previously charged with lower-level marijuana crimes.
While the initial proposal will no doubt undergo revisions and could encounter some close votes, legislative leaders say they won’t shy from the discussion.
If the bill becomes law, people anxious to obtain legal marijuana might need to have some patience. Here are questions and answers about aspects of the bill as it currently sits:
1) When would legal marijuana be available?
A start date for legal sales isn’t yet identified.
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Part of that depends on the growth cycle. It can take nine months or longer to get marijuana from seed to cultivation and then sale. The objective is to build up capacity before the legal market opens so initial demand can be met.
There are also hurdles for retailers to clear, including licensure. The product might not be widely available until sometime in 2025.
Under the bill, people can grow marijuana at home for their personal use. The legislation allows up to eight plants per residence but only four can be “mature” plants that are flowering at any one time. And the cultivation must be done in an enclosed locked space inaccessible to anybody under 21 years old. The marijuana extracted from those plants can’t be sold unless the grower is licensed.
And no, marijuana and other hemp-derived products sold legally in Minnesota couldn’t be imported from other states.
2) Are there limitations on where marijuana could be used?
Use of cannabis and cannabinoid products would be allowed by people 21 and older on private property, private residences or places with licenses or holding a permitted event.
But it couldn’t be smoked in a moving motor vehicle, similar to open-bottle requirements for liquor. Possession and use would still be forbidden on school grounds, on school buses, in correctional facilities or while operating heavy machinery.
Local governments couldn’t enact ordinances prohibiting use or sale of cannabis products but they could regulate the time, place and manner of things. That zoning includes barring marijuana-based businesses from locating too close to schools, churches, nursing homes and the like.
3) Are there other safeguards to discourage use by minors?
Yes. Cannabis and hemp-derived products can’t be made to appear to be lollipops or ice cream. Packaging can’t bear the likeness or contain characteristics of fictional people, animals or fruit. It can’t be made to look like product packaging of items usually consumed by or marketed to children. Advertising to audiences of people under 21 is prohibited.
No one under 21 could work in a cannabis business and strict age verification processes would be required for purchases.
4) How would the sales be taxed?
Minnesota would impose a point-of-purchase gross receipts tax of 8 percent on top of the standard sales tax, so expect the effective tax would be in the 15 percent range. It would be higher in places with additional local sales taxes. The money would go into the general treasury, but the goal is to cover the costs of regulatory aspects and connected programs, including additional substance abuse prevention and treatment.
5) Who would regulate the new market?
The bill would create a new state entity, the office of cannabis management. It would oversee the regulated market for marijuana, an existing medical marijuana program and the recently allowed THC-derived edible and beverage products.
The governor would appoint the director of the office, who would be barred from having a “direct or indirect financial interest” in a licensed cannabis business, both during that person’s service and two years after leaving the post.
Other state agencies would have a role in doing criminal background checks of prospective licensees, monitoring growth of cannabis and setting water, waste and other environmental standards.
6) What kind of businesses would be involved?
The burgeoning hemp market would get a jolt if recreational marijuana becomes law.
There would be demand for growers, product manufacturers, wholesalers, transporters, retailers, testers and more. All would have to be licensed, subject to a fee. The number of licenses would be tailored to demand and market stability.
There would be restrictions on licensees being involved in too many segments of the industry.
Bill architects want to encourage startups, particularly entrepreneurs from communities where marijuana prohibition took a societal toll. There are millions of dollars in grants or loans contemplated for those trying to break into the industry as part of newly created CanStartUp, CanNavigate and CanTrain programs.
7) What kind of political support is there?
A similar marijuana legalization bill passed in the Minnesota House in 2021 by a vote of 72-61, with most Democrats and six Republicans on board. Only two of the Republicans remain in the House, but two of three Democrats who opposed the bill are no longer in office. Prospects for another bill to prevail in the House are strong.
That bill didn’t reach a Senate vote. DFLers have a 34-33 majority now, but even advocates aren’t sure where the votes would come down on this bill.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz backs legalization.