Minnesota to Officially Legalize Cannabis

The individual states within America are legalizing recreational cannabis at such a rapid rate that the matter of legalization itself is becoming an inevitable matter of when a state legalizes instead of if the state legalizes. Even in states as deeply red and socially conservative as Mississippi where a Republican has served as governor for two decades, a medical cannabis measure passed with an overwhelming majority in 2020. In several other states that the average American citizen couldn’t ever possibly imagine implementing any sort of cannabis reform such as Virginia and Missouri, recreational cannabis is now fully legal and a retail market with hopefully reasonable taxes is being crafted.

The newest state to legalize cannabis recreationally is one that certainly isn’t typically associated with greater American cannabis culture in the same way that California and Oregon usually are. It’s a state that’s far more synonymous with an endless amount of lakes and Prince, the king of Purple Rain and one of the most talented musicians to ever pick up an instrument. However, Minnesota is nowhere near as prohibitionist-leaning as its geographic neighbors and has enacted cannabis reform policies long before many other American states.

Minnesota first enacted a statewide decriminalization measure in the time of bell bottoms and disco music, way back in 1976. And the policy was a very liberally generous law as well, as a citizen of Minnesota could have up to 42.5 grams or 1 ½ ounces in their possession and only face a $200 fine at most. As long as a citizen is possessing under that maximum amount, then they won’t face incarceration whatsoever and won’t have to deal with the perils of being arrested. This law was passed years before the combined efforts of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton exploded the drug war and statewide decriminalization measures became less frequent.

The state wasn’t nearly as progressive when it came to medical cannabis legalization, as Minnesota patients had to wait until 2014 to have safe and legal access to cannabis via The Minnesota Medical Marijuana Act. However initially, the medical cannabis program was considered extremely restrictive as the number of both qualifying conditions and variety of product types that were available to patients was very limited. Mostly only patients with conditions that were either degenerative or outright terminal could truthfully have access and only available in edible or vaporized form. Apparently, smoking the buds of the flower was outlawed by the measure. Even worse for our nation’s heroes, PTSD wasn’t included as a qualifying condition until August of 2017.

The possibility of recreational cannabis in Minnesota reached a major turning point in 2018 when then Congressman Tim Walz won the gubernatorial election. On the campaign trail as a moderate Democrat, Walz ran on a platform of cannabis legalization for a variety of reasons. For both expanding access and for social equity and restorative justice reasons, Walz supported Minnesota legalizing cannabis fully on the state level.

 “I just think the time is here and we’re seeing it across the country. Minnesota has always been able to implement these things right.” said Walz.

Unfortunately for cannabis advocates, the Minnesota Senate Republicans voted down a 2019 measure that would’ve legalized recreationally following the testimony of the usual suspects that arise when arguing against almost any type of cannabis reform law; those being members of law enforcement and mostly federal government-paid public health experts including the former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

Luckily for Minnesota’s cannabis advocates and consumers, legal cannabis in the Land of 10,000 Lakes will soon become a very true reality. Unlike the political landscape of the Minnesota Legislature during the 2019 legislative attempt to legalize cannabis, Democrats took control of the Senate in the 2022 midterms. Although the 2023 Senate vote on the bill which would eventually legalize cannabis, HF 100, shows that the attitude surrounding cannabis changed.

HF 100 is a groundbreaking piece of legislation for the state and one that would ideally bring together economically-minded conservatives and social justice-focused liberals in support of the measure. Most importantly, restorative justice measures including automatic expungement for previous non-violent cannabis offenses will be very much included in the bill.

“Certain marijuana misdemeanor records would also be automatically expunged, with implementation beginning in August.” Marijuana Moment explained in an overview of the bill. “The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be responsible for identifying people who are eligible for relief to the courts, which will process the expungements. A newly created Cannabis Expungement Board would also consider felony cannabis offenses for relief, including potential sentence reductions for those still incarcerated.”

Citizens of Minnesota will be able to possess and purchase up to two ounces at any given time and will be allowed up to eight plants at home. Citizens may also be able to have two pounds of cannabis stored at home. Consumption at private events and delivery services will also be allowed under the measure.  The tax rate for retail cannabis products will also be extremely conservative in comparison to other legal states, at only 10 percent in a gross receipt tax on top of the state sales tax percentage of 6.875. A total tax rate of under 17 percent in total is far more preferable to states such as Washington that have an astronomically high 37 percent excise tax.

80 percent of the tax revenue will be put into the state’s general fund, with the remaining percentage being used for cannabis business grants as well as substance use disorder treatment centers.

A new regulatory body, the Office of Cannabis Management, will be created by the bill. And given that it’s becoming an increasingly discussed topic when recreational cannabis bills are being crafted, HF 100 will also create a Division of Social Equity and prioritize social equity applicants. Interestingly, not only would those from low-income areas of Minnesota be considered social equity applicants but also veterans who lost their honorable discharge status due to a cannabis-related offense.

The bill passed the Minnesota House easily by a vote of 71-59 but a far different story in the Senate. HF 100 only passed the state Senate by a mere two votes. Still, the bill was effectively passed in both chambers of the Legislature, so the bill will soon be signed by a very supportive Governor Walz.

“When the bill reaches my desk,” Governor Walz said Minnesota will become the 23rd state in the nation to legalize adult-use cannabis.”


Aaron Pelley

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