Marijuana could be legalized in Minnesota this year, lawmakers said last week.

Sens. Melisa Franzen (D) and Scott Jensen (R) introduced a bill in the Senate outlining the use of recreational cannabis, with Rep. Mike Freiberg (D) submitting companion legislation in the House. At a press conference announcing the new proposals, the legislators argued that a discussion on legalization is overdue and that such a move would be in the best interests of the state.

“As more states legalize cannabis for recreational use, most recently our Midwest neighbor Michigan by ballot initiative, Minnesota has thus far been reluctant to engage in the kind of serious conversation that happened five years ago. [The bill] makes sense and the time has come to have this important conversation,” Franzen said.

The proposed legislation would allow adults 21 and older to possess, grow and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, with regulators responsible for approving testing and cultivation businesses.

The bill would allow for the possibility of expungements for past marijuana-related convictions and ensure that tax revenue from cannabis sales are invested into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

The House version is officially numbered HF 420—seemingly a nod to the code-term in marijuana culture on the part of legislative staffers in Saint Paul.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) estimated that a retail cannabis market would earn Minnesota up to $300 million in tax revenue per year, but the bill’s sponsors avoided emphasizing the potential revenue stream. In the bill itself, the lawmakers purposefully left the tax rate section blank to stress that it’s a “secondary” concern after health, safety and social justice issues.

“Minnesota’s outdated prohibition policy has become more of a problem than a solution,” Freiberg said in a press release. “It is forcing marijuana into a shady underground market, which creates more potential harm for consumers and communities than marijuana itself.”

“Regulating marijuana would make our state safer by removing the criminal element and empowering our state and local governments to start controlling production and sales,” he said.

“It is time for Minnesota to recognize that, like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, its prohibition of marijuana does not work,” MPP Minnesota Political Director Jason Tarasek said in a press release. “By legalizing marijuana and carefully regulating its sale, we can keep it out of the hands of teens without needlessly arresting responsible adult consumers. This would allow law enforcement to spend more time addressing serious crimes, while also creating a significant new revenue stream for our state.”

Last month, 15 House members signed onto a separate piece of legalization legislation that would allow for regulated retail cannabis sales. Unlike the new statutory bill filed last week, however, the earlier proposal is a constitutional amendment, which would require approval from voters on the ballot after being passed by lawmakers.

If any of these bills ultimately make it through the legislature, it is likely that Gov. Tim Walz (D) will sign them into law. He has repeatedly made statements in support of changing the state’s marijuana laws – to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”

In November, Walz said he thinks “it’s important for our partners both in the House and in the Senate to start and work things out.”

Whether there is enough support for these bills in the chamber remains to be seen, with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) having doubts.

“Legalizing recreational marijuana is not something I would consider a priority issue. Due to it’s linkage to mental health problems, driving accidents, and impaired teen brain development, I don’t think it has a chance to pass the Senate this year.” #mnleg #mnsenate— Paul Gazelka (@paulgazelka) January 28, 2019

“Senate Republicans are focused on reducing health care costs, supporting mental health care, and passing a balanced budget,” Gazelka said in a statement Monday. “Legalizing recreational marijuana is a controversial issue, to say the least, and not something I would consider a priority issue.”

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