In a historic vote, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill that would legalize possession and regulated sales of cannabis, as well as automatically expunge prior cannabis-related convictions.

Following a long and tense debate, the legalization bill was finally approved by the Democrat-controlled House in a 72-61 vote, with several Republicans breaking ranks in support of the measure. This marks the first time a chamber of Minnesota’s legislature has voted in favor of ending cannabis prohibition in the state. Before making it to the House floor for a vote, the bill had been subject to review, and subsequent approval, by twelve different legislative committees.

The resulting legislation – HB 600 – sponsored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), would permit adults 21 and older to legally possess up to two ounces in public and up to ten ounces at home. Home cultivation of up to eight plants, at a maximum of four mature plants, would also be allowed for personal use.

HB 600 would also serve to automatically expunge criminal records of low-level cannabis convictions, provide for on-site marijuana consumption at licensed retailers and allow home delivery of cannabis. The legislation, which is broadly the same as a legalization bill introduced by Winkler last year that he described as the “best legalization bill in the country,” also contains social equity provisions aimed at encouraging the participation in the cannabis industry of individuals from communities most harmed by the state and federal government’s war on drugs.

“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said on the House floor prior to the vote. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color, especially Black Minnesotans.”

 

“House File 600 legalizes cannabis for adult use in Minnesota, expunging records related to past cannabis convictions,” he added. “It creates a legal marketplace focused on allowing more opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses in Minnesota and creates a pathway for social equity applicants to be part of a growing industry.”

While Gov. Tim Walz (D) supports marijuana legalization and recently urged lawmakers to pass the measure with robust social equity provisions, the bill is likely to face stiff opposition in the Republican controlled Senate before it can make its way to the governor’s desk. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka recently said he’s more interested in potentially expanding Minnesota’s medical marijuana program rather than getting behind full legalization.

Nonetheless, Winkler believes that if HB 600 does make it to the Senate floor for a vote, it stands a good chance of passing.

“I think we are having an effect on them, and they feel the pressure to find a way to act because they know that they are losing this and the public will eventually win and get this,” Winkler said.

In order to gain some Republican votes in the House, Winkler agreed to apportion some marijuana sales tax revenues toward tax cuts, and indicated his openness to accommodating Republican amendments during the floor debate.

“We think that further conversation on some of these issues is required,” Winkler said, “but I will say that your engagement, your improvements to the bill are something that I’m committed to, and we will continue to make improvements to this bill as it moves through the process.”

The House’s passage of a marijuana legalization bill comes at a time when Gov. Walz put his signature to another piece of marijuana-related legislation. After being rapidly approved by both the House and Senate, Walz signed a bill into law allowing smokable forms of medical marijuana in Minnesota. The measure is set to take effect from July 1, 2021.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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