Minnesota lawmakers have advanced a proposal that would allow recreational marijuana use for adults and automatically expunge minor convictions related to cannabis, inching the state closer toward legalization.
The legislation, authored by Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, would legalize marijuana use for adults 21 and older and expunge cannabis-related misdemeanor convictions. The proposal would also establish regulations for the production and sale of cannabis and cannabis products, including a nine-member board to oversee the new industry.
The bill passed the House agriculture committee on March 24 on a 8-5 party-line vote and heads to its next stop in the House environment and natural resources committee.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized varying forms of recreational marijuana use for adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Medical marijuana is legal in Minnesota, though its restrictions are some of the toughest in the country.
“As more and more states legalize cannabis, the question is not whether we are able to stop this trend — the question is whether we are well prepared to do this right from the beginning,” Winkler testified. “This bill is an effort to combine the thoughts, needs, analysis and experience of people from across the country, people from across the state, to get this policy right.”
House Democrats launched the push for legalization in February, framing the proposal as a method to addressing racial disparities in a criminal justice system that is more likely to punish Black cannabis users over white ones, despite similar usage rates. The legislation has a good chance of making it through the Democratic House but faces opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, has said the issue is not a priority this legislative session.
Michael Chaney, founder of a nonprofit urban farming initiative called Project Sweetie Pie, said social equity and inclusion measures within the bill present the state with a unique opportunity to address inequity in opportunities afforded to Black and Indigenous farmers in Minnesota.
“I urge each and every one of you to realize that you can either advance equity and inclusion or you can stall it,” Chaney testified. “Let’s make history here today and move this legislation forward so we can move this legislation forward.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.
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