Minnesota, home to one of the strictest medical cannabis programs in the country, is one step closer to an adult-use market. For the first time ever, a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis and expunge minor cannabis convictions has advanced far into the legislature and is expected to receive a full floor vote in the Minnesota House during its final hearing this week. The bill, which was authored by Democratic House Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, has been through a dozen hearings so far and is especially focused on criminal justice.
To help develop the landmark legislation and drum up support, Winkler held forums in at least a dozen cities. By involving tons of people in the process, listening to their issues, and addressing those issues, the campaign built up a lot of support, Winkler says. As expected, the bill received plenty of support from Democrats in the House while four Republicans voted in its favor in committee. As the legislation moves to final passage in the Minnesota House, Winkler expects to garner more supporters.
Cannabis reform advocates and Democrats in the state have framed the adult-use bill as a racial equity issue. Despite relatively similar usage rates, Black Minnesotans are 5.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana compared to their white counterparts. A report from the ACLU of Minnesota published in 2020 showed that in terms of racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests, Minnesota ranks eighth in the country. Additionally, Black and Hispanic communities were victims of intense policing and harsh sentences for years under the guise of cannabis policies.
Consequently, every community Winkler visited pointed to social equity as a top priority when it comes to adult-use cannabis legislation, and that equity was one of the main reasons he threw his weight behind cannabis reform. He calls the state’s continued efforts to prohibit and criminalize cannabis using the criminal justice system as a “public policy failure.”
According to Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, most Republicans are apprehensive about the adult-use bill due to its complexity. Like most cannabis reform legislation, it touches on several issues including labor laws, criminal and sentencing laws, and taxation, among others. He says that even though the proposal needs more work, the fact that Democrats accepted his amendment to direct some cannabis tax revenue to a tax relief account as a “big step in the right direction.”
On the other hand, law enforcement has expressed concern over the proposal citing negative health effects such as increased addiction rates and impaired driving.
If Minnesota eventually establishes a regulated marijuana market, it will be one fewer state without recreational cannabis, and that would potentially exert more pressure on the federal government to enact reforms that could ultimately allow sector players such as Gage Growth Corp. (CSE: GAGE) (d.b.a. Gage Cannabis) to operate across state lines, unlike the current legal regime which bars cannabis from crossing state boundaries.
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