Minnesota is now among the states where marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older — in a few months, at least.
Flanked by a colorful predecessor, Gov. Tim Walz signed an expansive cannabis legalization bill into law Tuesday, dramatically changing state drug policy. It begins a gradual implementation that at first decriminalizes cannabis and allows for home cultivation. Many months from now, people will be able to buy marijuana from shops.
“It's going to take us a bit of time to get this up and going. We'll be getting some people into the positions to be able to run this,” Walz said. “But I assure Minnesotans that a lot of thought has gone into this.”
The signing ceremony was a chance for celebration for advocates who for years sought to soften the state’s stance around marijuana. Sen. Lindsey Port, who sponsored the bill, called it “the period at the end of the sentence on this piece of legislation.”
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The Legislature passed the bill earlier this month, with a handful of Republicans joining a nearly united Democratic vote in favor.
Walz nodded often to former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who first proposed legalization back in the 1990s. Ventura was on hand for the bill signing and beamed throughout.
“It's very wonderful to see a dream of yours over 20 years ago finally happen today and I'm still alive to see it,” Ventura said, adding, “Jimi Hendrix is looking down on Minnesota smiling today.”
Walz said it will still require work to get a regulated market into place.
“On the administration side, we've been working on this since 2019,” he said.
Walz said he was confident that Minnesota would be able to learn from the 22 states that are further along with legal cannabis.
Among the early tasks will be to hire a leader of the new Office of Cannabis Management. There will be rules set around potency, seed sales and other aspects of retail licensing and grants to cannabis entrepreneurs.
Starting this August, possession of two ounces or less in public won’t be a crime. People will be permitted to have two pounds at home. They’ll also be able to grow up to eight marijuana plants. Only four can be mature enough to be flowering at once. Exceeding the limit could bring a civil penalty of $500 per plant.
The law allows for use by adults 21 and older. But there are limits. It can’t be: on public school grounds; where smoking is otherwise prohibited; in places where smoke or vapor could be inhaled by a minor; or behind the wheel of a car or boat.
And without a license to do so, selling it could result in escalating criminal and financial sanctions based on the amount illegally sold.
The retail market is a ways off because it will take time to set up the licensing structure for all facets of the growth and sales. There are social equity goals that bill sponsors hope to achieve as well. The theory is that people most affected by prior laws should get a leg up in the new system.
Local governments will be able to limit the number of retail shops tied to their population. There are local zoning ordinances that will also apply.
And it will take time to make sure there’s ample supply to meet expected demand so there aren’t hiccups seen in other states or high costs that only foster an illicit market.
Opponents of the law change predicted it would lead to a rise in traffic accidents, problems with mental health and various public nuisances.
“This bill turns a blind eye to all those dangers,” said Kim Bemis, chair of the Minnesota chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action. “People don’t want pot shops in their communities, and they don’t want more drugs getting into the hands of their children.”
For people who had run afoul of the law before, those prior marijuana convictions could get a fresh look.
Those with low-level offenses — petty misdemeanors for having small amounts in your possession or a car, for instance — can expect those records to be automatically sealed. That process starts in August but might take time to carry out because Minnesota authorities say they’re working with national criminal databases in some instances.
These convictions often show up on background checks for employment, housing or other matters.
People with more complicated cases — those where the marijuana charge was in conjunction with another offense — will find an easier pathway for review of records and potential expungement by a newly created board.
Cases involving considerable violence, dangerous weapons or other severe risk probably won’t qualify.
The goal is to have a lot of this work done in eight to 12 months. There are thousands of cases that are in line for another look.
“We really made life tough for people,” Walz said, referencing cases that came before the Board of Pardons involving people whose earlier records for marijuana possession prevented licensure in health care or law enforcement.
“They were trying to do these things and that was keeping them from being able to do that. So I feel really positive about this piece of it. For many up here, that's what they were fighting for.”