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State Capitol prepares for fight over marijuana legalization in Minnesota

Ryan Faircloth, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota cannabis advocates have waited years for this moment: Democrats who support legalizing marijuana now control the governor's office and the state Legislature, and they are signaling they could act on the issue next year.

The state's medical cannabis manufacturers, hemp-product retailers and industry groups are poised to have an influential say in the creation of a recreational marijuana market, as are opponents concerned about the drug's effect on consumers. Many are buzzing about the opportunities legalization could present for small business ownership, state tax revenue and criminal justice reform.

"All the work that's been done for over a decade … is coming to a head in the next couple months here," said Kurtis Hanna, a lobbyist for the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "I think we're going to leave next session with a legalization bill and complete our mission."

While marijuana advocates will have a receptive audience at the State Capitol, they'll face pushback from critics trying to convince lawmakers that recreational pot is not right for Minnesota. Several trade groups, social organizations and law enforcement associations have formed a coalition opposing it called Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization.

Among the coalition groups is Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota. Co-chair Kim Bemis said he's concerned legalization will lead to more cases of impaired driving and adolescents using the drug.

"There's a highway safety issue and there's no roadside test for impairment like there is a breathalyzer," Bemis said. "We would certainly rather see decriminalization happen than full commercialization."

 

Minnesota has steadily embraced cannabis over the years, starting with the 2014 legalization of medical marijuana for patients with qualifying health conditions.

Earlier this year, the state legalized edibles and drinks containing low doses of THC — the cannabis ingredient that can cause a high — for adults 21 and older so long as the products are derived from legal hemp rather than marijuana. THC has the same effect regardless of the source.

Recent attempts to legalize marijuana for recreational use stalled at the State Capitol because Republicans who controlled the Senate opposed it. But after holding the state House and flipping the state Senate in this month's midterm elections, Democrats say they are ready to forge ahead.

"I think it's really possible that it happens next year," DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said, noting her chamber passed a marijuana legalization bill in 2021. "It's a matter of working with the Senate and the governor's office."

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