Minnesota closing in on legalizing recreational marijuana

April 25, 2023

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Recreational marijuana could soon be legalized and regulated in Minnesota under bills that are entering the final rounds of debate at the Legislature.

The House, where Democrats comfortably outnumber Republicans, was set to pass its marijuana bill Monday night after green-lighting similar legislation in 2021. The Senate, where Democrats hold only a one-seat majority, is scheduled to vote Friday on its own version.

“Today is a big day because we are now at the five-yard line” for legalizing cannabis, the lead author, Democratic Rep. Zack Stephenson, of Coon Rapids, said at a news conference ahead of a debate that was expected to run late into the evening.

The bill has an emphasis on social equity, Stephenson said, and the overall focus is to make sure that people who have been harmed most by previous marijuana laws would benefit most through jobs and opportunities in the new, legal cannabis market.

Across the country, Black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately burdened by state convictions for marijuana-related offenses.

Republican Rep. Nolan West, of Blaine, said at a separate news conference that he planned to vote in support of the bill because Stephenson had worked closely with him to address his concerns.

Still, West said he disagreed with the bill’s “far-left ideology.” He called it anti-business because he said its licensing requirements would prioritize “social equity scores” over the effectiveness of a business model. He said he hopes to serve on the conference committee that will shape the final version.

But Republican Rep. Kristin Robbins, of Maple Grove, said she would vote against the bill, arguing that it does not adequately address addiction problems and public safety risks, nor does it allow for local control of marijuana sales and licensing.

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of the MN is Ready coalition of pro-legalization groups, said in an interview that she expects all Senate Democrats will vote yes when it comes up in their chamber Friday. “We hope for a bipartisan vote, but we’re not certain that will be the case,” she said.

If versions of the proposal pass both chambers, a conference committee would then resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions. Both chambers would then have to sign off on the final version before sending it to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign it into law.

At least 21 other states have passed laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana by adults.