A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota was approved Wednesday by a House committee – the first of a dozen committees expected to look at law reform in the coming weeks before a vote.

Earlier this month, the measure was approved by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Ortman (D) and other lawmakers. This would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to eight plants, four of which may be adults.

The Chamber of Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill by a majority of 10 to 7.

A second hearing on the proposal is scheduled for the Feb. 23rd. scheduled to appear before the Committee on Finance and Policy on Labor, Industry, Veterans and Armed Services.

Mr Winkler’s bill as submitted last year was identical to the one he had submitted the year before, with some minor technical amendments. The majority leader, who chaired a statewide hearing to gauge public opinion before introducing the measure, called it the best legalization law in the country at the time. However, it was not discussed in depth at this meeting.

The proposal gives priority to social justice, in particular by ensuring licence diversity and by preventing market monopolisation by companies. Previous marijuana records are also automatically deleted.

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On-site consumption and delivery of cannabis is also permitted. And unlike in many jurisdictions, local municipalities would not be allowed to ban marijuana businesses within their borders.

Retail cannabis would be taxed at 10 percent. A portion of these revenues will be used to fund a grant program to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill establishes a seven-member Cannabis Board to regulate the market and issue licenses for cannabis. The committee was amended Tuesday to include social justice members.

People living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and Army veterans who have lost their honorary status because of a cannabis-related offense are treated as applicants for social justice and may be granted a priority license.

Winkler’s amendment, which was approved by the committee, would also allow city and county governments to own cannabis stores. It will also clarify that the passage of the Marijuana Legalization Act will not affect the Clean Indoor Air Act, among other changes to the law.

MP Tim O’Driscoll’s (right) separate amendment was also passed by a show of hands. This would prohibit marijuana businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare center, retirement home, union headquarters, place of worship or Capitol Hill.

Although Mr. Winkler stated that the issue of the location of cannabis dispensing businesses is better handled by local governments rather than the state, he agreed to attach the amendment to the bill for now and promised to finalize the wording in a future committee.

Before approving the bill, other committee members raised questions about potential conflicts with federal law, employment issues, drunk driving and other issues.

In his opening statement at the beginning of the hearing, Mr. Winkler said that the reason for this bill is that we have cannabis laws today that do more harm than good.

The first public hearing on our new adult-use cannabis law will be held today at 3pm. This is a historic milestone for our state, and you can watch the video live at https://t.co/CrgMYcUvPJ. House File 600 is the result of a huge interaction with Minnesotans across the state. #mnleg pic.twitter.com/ZqfSyQH3qV

– Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) February 17, 2021

Legalization will come, he said. It’s time to get it right, and that’s what this bill represents. It’s not perfect, but I think through the work of this committee – working with the stakeholder groups and with your input – we can improve it and bring it to the final stage.

The executive council of the local union of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association testified in support of the legalization bill prior to the hearing. The dissenting votes came from organizations like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Truckers Association.

On the eve of Wednesday’s committee vote, Mr. Winkler participated with U.S. Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) in a webinar in which the trio discussed the need for cannabis policy change.

We intend to go to the extreme, and we believe this will set a standard of justice, correct the mistakes of the past and solve the race war on crime to create businesses for small businesses, micro-businesses and skilled trades in Minnesota, the majority leader told Republicans in Congress. We will allow the people of Minnesota the fundamental freedom to safely use the product they wish to use for their health and personal use.

It’s time to end this previous approach – it’s high time to make cannabis legal in Minnesota and start dismantling the criminal justice system’s structural assault on black and brown Minnesotans, black and brown Americans, he said. We can do it with this bill and we will work hard to get it done.

The majority leader said that while legalization won’t solve all the disparities in criminal justice in Minnesota, there’s no doubt that arrests for cannabis have led to a host of other charges, including those based on police searches because an officer smelled cannabis. He cited a notorious case where a man was killed by a Minnesota cop who tried to justify the encounter by smelling marijuana.

It’s a terrible situation – Philando Castillo’s murder partly based on the smell of cannabis in the car, and it was part of an outrageous excuse by the officer to explain why he wasn’t in his right mind about the attack, he said. Criminalization can have devastating consequences.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) also favors ending marijuana prohibition, and last month he urged lawmakers to approve reform as a way to boost the economy and promote racial justice. However, it has not included a request for legalisation in its budget proposal.

In 2019, Walz said he instructed state agencies to prepare reforms before legalization is passed.

Meanwhile, Winkler said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t accept the policy change in the legislation, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as an election measure in 2022.

Before the 2020 election, Democrats thought they had a chance to take control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

This result appears to be due in part to the fact that candidates from marijuana-oriented parties in the state received a significant share of the vote that might otherwise have gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting their chances of getting reforms through.

Although Republicans retain the majority in the Senate, Winkler said Tuesday that he thinks they will gain significant Republican support for the legalization bill. And he hopes that the House of Representatives will at least vote on the proposal.

Our strategy is based on demonstrating strong support from Democrats and Republicans who want to be able to vote on the bill and see if we can get it passed, he said. We never met him in the house. We are going to do that and work on a strategy to put pressure on the Senate leadership to at least get the bill through and see if we can get votes to pass it.

We’re live! Today we discuss why we should legalize marijuana. Leave your questions in the comments below. https://t.co/LuVlGGWfoe.

– Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) February 16, 2021

We have one or two small legislative tricks we can use to try to do that, he said, adding that the bill will first go through weeks of hearings in the House of Representatives before the other chamber has a chance to pass it.

In December, the Minnesota House of Representatives’ special committee on racial justice approved a report that highlighted racial disparities in law enforcement and recommended a number of policy changes, including the decriminalization of marijuana and marijuana dispensaries.

Wisconsin governor reveals details on marijuana legalization in budget proposal

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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