Minn. House passes marijuana bill, more hurdles ahead

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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By Brian Baskt

The Minnesota House kept a marijuana legalization push on course Tuesday, voting 71-59 for a bill that would permit cultivation, distribution and sales as well as home growth of cannabis.

Two Republicans joined all but one DFLer in supporting the bill, with others saying they could eventually get on board if more changes they want are made.

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Advocates cheered the vote. 

“Minnesotans have told us loud and clear that prohibition is the problem, not cannabis,” said Rep. Jessica Hanson, DFL-Burnsville. “And that they expect us to bring an end to the sinister days of prohibition and create a safe, legal, regulated market that promotes equity and reparation for our errors of the past.” 

Opponents were more glum.

“Unleashing this on Minnesota is not something to celebrate,” said Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, just ahead of the vote. “The people who are opposed to this bill are not trying to hold people down or harm people institutionally.”

It’s not the first time the House has taken such a step. Two years ago, the DFL-controlled chamber passed a marijuana bill only to see it stall out in the Republican Senate. 

Now with the DFL in charge of the full Capitol agenda, prospects have improved. All eyes are on a few DFL senators who haven’t publicly committed to voting for the bill when it is scheduled to come up on Friday.

Even if it passes there, some key differences between the versions will prompt further negotiation. They include:

Possession limits

The House bill allows people to grow up to eight plants at home, with only four flowering at once. The at-home limit for possession is 1.5 pounds, with the public-place possession limit at two ounces.

The Senate bill matches the House in what can be grown at home and can be possessed and transported in public. But the Senate version includes a 5 pound at-home possession limit.

Tax rates

The House bill starts the gross receipts tax on cannabis products at 8 percent and allows for it to be adjusted downward after four years. All of the money goes to the state’s general fund.

The Senate bill imposes a 10 percent tax on cannabis products, with 75 percent of proceeds going into the state’s treasury and the rest to a cannabis-related local aid account. Both bills bar additional local taxes.

Criminal expungement

Both bills would set up a system to automatically clear the records of prior low-level marijuana convictions and make it easier for people to petition to have other crimes wiped away.

The House plan sets an Aug. 1, 2023 effective date for the automatic expungements; the Senate bill doesn’t kick in there until January of 2025.

License limits

The Senate bill would let local governments limit the number of cannabis businesses, which would vary based on population size. The House version lacks a cap.