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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Senate vote puts Minnesota on path to legalizing marijuana

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Senate voted Friday to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, but the bill requires more work and negotiations before it can become law.

The vote was 34-33, with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no. There are several differences between the Senate bill and the companion version that passed the House 71-59 on Tuesday, so a House-Senate conference committee will need to resolve them before final votes in each chamber.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. It seeks to replace the illicit market for marijuana with a legal and regulated market, and to expunge the criminal records of residents who’ve been convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses such as simple possession.

“The prohibition of cannabis is a failed system that has not achieved the desired goals and has had incredible costs for our communities, especially for communities of color,” the lead author, Democratic Sen. Lindsey Port, of Burnsville, told her colleagues.

Port said lawmakers have an “opportunity to undo some of the harm that has been done and create a unique system of regulation that works for Minnesota consumers and businesses, while ensuring an opportunity in this new market for communities that have been most affected by prohibition.”

Republican senators argued during the debate that the bill isn’t ready to become law this year and needs more work. They expressed concerns about the impacts on traffic safety and crime, addiction and other mental health issues. They objected because local governments would be barred under the bill from disallowing cannabis sales if they don’t want them. And they said they weren’t reassured by the experiences of other states that have legalized it.

“We’re opening a door that is going to be very difficult to close, and it’s going to be very difficult to put the genie back on the bottle once this occurs,” said Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Both versions of the bill run over 300 pages. Among the major differences, the Senate version allows people to possess up to 5 pounds of cannabis flower at home, though only 2 pounds could be from sources other than home-grown. The House limit is 1.5 pounds whatever the source. The tax rate on cannabis products in the Senate bill is 10%, compared to 8% in the House version.

Minnesota would become the 23rd state after Delaware to legalize adult-use cannabis. Marijuana would become legal to possess this summer, including home-growing up to eight plants at a time. But sponsors say it will take a year or more of regulatory work before dispensaries could start retail sales.

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