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Cannabis Bill Passes MN House

The Minnesota House of Representatives voted on Thursday to legalize marijuana for adults in the state. This is the farthest the measure has ever traveled in the state Legislature, and it passed with 72-61 in favor, including nearly all Democrats and six Republicans. MN Governor Tim Walz supports the bill and has commented that he would sign off on it. Still, with opposition from the Republican-led Senate and just a few days left in the regular 2021 session, it is unlikely to become law this year. However, it could still become an issue on which voters could decide directly, as a 2022 ballot measure.

At any rate, it is an important step in the direction of recreational marijuana legalization in the state. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) - who, along with Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and others in the House, initially filed the measure in February - has stated the bill is "a long time coming." He continued, "Minnesotans have decided it's time to legalize cannabis and right the wrongs of the criminal prohibition of marijuana that has failed Minnesotans and has failed Minnesota."

The law would allow Minnesotans aged 21 or over to possess up to ten pounds of marijuana in their homes, and up to two ounces in public spaces. It is also, like other similar measures recently adopted in New York and elsewhere, meant to address the disproportionate toll taken by marijuana policing on communities of color. It would accomplish this by automatically expunging low-level marijuana convictions and creating a special board to review others. The bill also sets up a legal marketplace for distribution, establishes labeling and safety requirements, and dedicates revenue generated from the legal sales to regulation, youth access prevention, and substance abuse treatment programs.

Despite all this, as in New York, Republicans strongly oppose the measure. Their main objections seem to be mostly based on fear: for the safety of highways, due to a perceived increase of drivers under the influence of the newly legal substance; for the possibility of increased substance abuse in the workplace, in various industries; and, of course, the old "gateway drug" fear, that legal marijuana will somehow lead directly to harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. Other opponents of the measure argue that Minnesota should first focus on fixing its medical marijuana program - which has been ridiculed from all fronts - before moving onto the recreational side. As it stands now, Minnesota's medical marijuana program remains one of the nation's strictest, with no raw flower allowed even to those suffering terminal illnesses, so it is no surprise to find such opposition to this measure even after all the state has been through in the past year.

Ironically, some say that the two different marijuana reform parties in Minnesota may have divided the vote enough in the 2020 election to cost Democrats the Senate, which, in turn, may have ultimately set back the cause of reform. However, as a result of this, it is now politically wise for Democrats to show support for legalization, in light of the possibility that they may have lost favor with their progressive base by not uniting on this issue. With so many still suffering incarceration for nonviolent marijuana offenses, this goes well beyond the personal freedom to enjoy cannabis products. As Representative Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) stated on Thursday, "We can't keep relying on the status quo. Today the Minnesota House is taking one of the most significant steps toward racial equity."

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