The governor of Minnesota urged lawmakers to move ahead with adult-use cannabis legalization in order to help the state’s ailing economy while addressing racial inequities.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) made the remarks during a meeting concerning his budget proposal for 2022-23 in response to a question asking if he would legalize sports betting to boost state tax revenues. The governor said he’s open-minded about the proposal but would prefer to see lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”

He noted taxes generated from marijuana legalization would far outstrip those derived from legal sports bets but also stressed the measure’s potential to address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”

He seemingly went on to reference neighboring South Dakota’s recent votes on three separate ballot measures to legalize marijuana, both medical and recreational, as well as sports betting.

“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”

While Gov. Walz indicated in 2019 he would instruct state agencies to ready themselves for cannabis reform ahead of any measure passing, he has yet to attempt to legalize marijuana through his budget proposal to the legislature as governors in other states have done, such as New York and Rhode Island. The governor of neighboring Wisconsin, Tony Evers, recently said he’s considering including cannabis legalization in his forthcoming budget proposal for reasons similar to Gov. Walz.

As for pending marijuana reform legislation, the Minnesota House majority leader said he would introduce a marijuana legalization bill in the new session. Rep. Ryan Winkler submitted a bill to legalize cannabis last year, which he described at the time as “the best equity proposal related to economic development that any state has brought forward.”

The Republicans once again hold the upper chamber and there is little indication the GOP Senate is open to allowing adult-use marijuana in Minnesota, with House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) saying last month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”

A Minnesota House Committee on Racial Justice recently published a report recommending cannabis decriminalization and expungements in order to reduce racial disparities in policing and help “dismantle systemic racism.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) said he’s willing to consider such incremental reforms to Minnesota’s marijuana laws but stops short of full legalization.

“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health,” Gazelka said.