ST. PAUL — A large bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis, create a licensing system for cannabis businesses, and clear cannabis-related offenses from criminal records is once again making its way through the Minnesota Legislature.
The 250-page adult-use cannabis bill made its first stop in the House Commerce Committee on Dec. 11, where sponsor Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids told fellow members that after years of work on the issue, the state finally has an opportunity to change the law. It’ll be the first of about a dozen committee stops for the bill, which touches on issues ranging from taxes to criminal justice.
“Minnesotans deserve the freedom and respect to make responsible decisions about cannabis themselves,” said Stephenson, who is carrying a bill that is the result of three years of work in the House. “Our current laws are doing more harm than good. State and local governments are spending millions enforcing laws and aren't helping anyone money that can be put to far better purposes. There is a better way.”
For years now, advocates have been pushing for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Minnesota. However, the odds appear better than ever this year with Democratic majorities in the Legislature and a governor who said he’d sign a bill into law.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman has said legalization is a priority for the DFL majority in the House of Representatives, but Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic has not said whether her caucus is unified behind passing a bill.
Nearly 30 testifiers appeared to offer comments on the bill Wednesday, including the League of Minnesota Cities, which had some concerns about the level of enforcement control local governments would have in a state where possession and sale of cannabis is legal. The bill allows local governments to create a low level offense for public cannabis use.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference said the expungement parts of the legalization bill should be moved separately from the legalization of recreational cannabis.
“It makes that redemption contingent upon the commercialization of a drug that wreaks havoc on the human brain,” said Ryan Hamilton, a lobbyist with the Catholic Conference. “No amount of regulation can curtail the damage that today's high potency recreational marijuana will do to Minnesota families and our quality of life.”
Other opponents of the bill who appeared included the Minnesota Trucking Association, which raised concerns about road safety, as there are no roadside tests to determine levels of cannabis impairment. The legalization bill calls for the Department of Public Safety to create a pilot program for roadside testing using saliva samples.
The House Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to pass the bill along to the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law, one of the many stops it must make before being referred to the House floor for a vote. The Senate has not taken up its legalization bill in a committee yet.
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