Lawmakers in Minnesota aim to legalize, regulate, and tax a recreational cannabis market as soon as possible, according to two pieces of companion legislation introduced Monday in both the House and the Senate.
Senate File 619 is sponsored by Sens. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) and Scott Jensen (R-Chaska). House File 420 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley).
“Minnesota’s outdated prohibition policy has become more of a problem than a solution,” Freiberg said in a statement to Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “It is forcing marijuana into a shady underground market, which creates more potential harm for consumers and communities than marijuana itself. Regulating marijuana would make our state safer by removing the criminal element and empowering our state and local governments to start controlling production and sales.”
While the quantity is not specified, the legislation would permit Minnesotans 21 and older to possess and use cannabis recreationally. Dispensaries would be licensed to sell dried marijuana flower and other products like edibles, concentrates, and topicals. All retail products would be lab tested and taxed. Adults would also be permitted to cultivate their own plants at home, and certain marijuana arrest records would also be expunged under the proposed legislation.
According to lawmakers, possession and home cultivation for adults would be legal as early as 2020, and retail shops could open as early as 2022.
“At a certain point, it will become inevitable here in Minnesota,” said Rep. Mike Freiberg. “We have two options in front of us. One is to attempt to get in front of this issue and put strong public health protections in place. And the other is to wait and let it come to us.” If a recreational marijuana bill makes it to the desk of Governor Tim Walz, he will likely sign it into law. “I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes,” Gov. Walz Tweeted in August 2018.
With the gubernatorial wins of Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, Tim Walz in Minnesota and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, the stage seems to be set for a Midwestern green revolution. Michigan became the first state in the region to legalize for adult use, but the overall political landscape bodes well for cannabis reform efforts with the new governors-elect taking their seats soon.
Illinois and Minnesota already have exiting medical cannabis systems in place. Pritzker said on Wednesday that he thinks his state should consider adult-use legalization “right away,” noting the economic benefits. A system designed to expunge the criminal records of individuals who’ve been convicted of cannabis-related offenses is also on the table for Illinois, he said.
Similarly, Whitmer said that Michigan voters have made clear that “no one should bear a lifelong record” for an offense that has since been legalized. She will be “looking into” policies to ameliorate that problem.
“A green Midwest would say [to the federal government] what we’re seeing in so many other arenas,” Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana is not an exclusively a leftist or libertarian issue. It’s really an issue that the American public wants to see.”
Historically, the Midwest hasn’t been regarded as a region especially friendly toward progressive cannabis policies. But that’s rapidly changing, and the results of the midterm election could signal a paradigm shift that’s been a long time coming, Forman said.
For example, Walz, in Minnesota, said he wants to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
In Wisconsin, voters in 16 counties and two cities embraced various marijuana reform proposals in the form of non-binding advisory questions on Tuesday. Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walter (R) opposed full legalization and called marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as May, but governor-elect Evers has said he wants to put a legalization question on the statewide ballot for voters to weigh in on and would support ending prohibition if they approved it. In the meantime he wants to enact decriminalization and legalize medical cannabis.
A used children’s clothing resale shop in Maplewood, Minnesota, called Once Upon a Child, received more than clothes in a recent donation. Also included in the bottom of the bag were 111 individually wrapped grams of dried cannabis flowers ready for distribution.
While the state of Minnesota did approve a law to permit people suffering from a few debilitating conditions to possess and use low-THC, CBD oil with certification from a state approved physician, the possession and sale of cannabis flowers remains illegal.
Once Upon a Child employees reported the surprise donation to the local police department, who immediately posted a photo to their Facebook page searching for the owner of the 111 grams.
No one has contacted the department to claim the baggies yet, according to Chief Paul Schnell. Considering that an arrest like this could result in felony charges and one year in jail, it is unlikely that the owner will come forward.
As individual states write their own cannabis laws, it creates a spectrum of legislation that fully legalizes cannabis in one state, but can make it next to impossible to obtain in another state.
Iowa has legalized medical marijuana for a small number of patients, and on Friday Governor Terry Branstad signedHouse File 524, which expanded the program to a larger number of patients. Instead of waiting for an industry to form, Iowa lawmakers are attempting to partner with Minnesota’s medical marijuana industry, which is currently suffering from a lack of eligible patients.
“It’s providing access to Iowans and doing it as quickly as we can,”
said Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.
“I just want to be sure if we have a tough time finding a grower, we have another source available. It all just fits together.”
When a state creates a medical marijuana program for a narrow group of patients, finding growers and manufacturers willing to take the risk on a small market can take years. Minnesota is one such state. “One of the problems that we have had here is that the manufacturers … have a limited number of customers, and it may become difficult to sustain their business,” said Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt. “It may be helpful to our manufactures and ultimately to our jobs and economy here in Minnesota. I think it could be a mutually beneficial thing.”
This type of arrangement would be the first of its kind. Marijuana legislation at the state level has largely been able to dodge federal interference by keeping cannabis within the state’s borders. There are a few states that have medical marijuana reciprocity, a policy that welcomes medical marijuana patients from other states into their own program.
A law that would explicitly create a marijuana commerce relationship between two states could interfere with federal drug trafficking laws. “We’d certainly want to make sure people were aware of the risk,” said Michelle Larson, who operates Minnesota’s Office of Medical Cannabis. Minnesota state officials have not yet participated in Upmeyer and Daudt’s plan, which would include incorporating Iowa patients into Minnesota’s medical marijuana patient registry.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been particularly critical about medical marijuana, and has recently called upon federal prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties possible for drug crime, signalling a return to ineffective and unjust sentencing guidelines. Just as politicians from Colorado have done, Upmeyer will attempt to meet with Sessions to gauge how the Justice Department might handle the situation.
Vireo Health, a company with medical marijuana dispensaries in both Minnesota and New York, did what any normal business in any industry tries to do: increase business with Google Ads.
However, when Vireo tried to buy some digital ads focusing on New York, Google hit Vireo with a bizarre rejection note. The rejection stated that the mega-company couldn’t work with Vireo because of a company policy that prohibits ads for “dangerous products or services.”
It’s unclear when Vireo attempted release the ads in New York (probably somewhat recently), but the news surfaced when Vireo decided to go public with the denial and talk to the Minnesota Star Tribune. Vireo wants to use Google Ads in Minnesota to drive medical marijuana patients to its business, a rather sensible goal in a state where the success of the medical cannabis program is being scrutinized
Likewise, Vireo (or the Tribune, it’s unclear) tried to get in touch with Google via phone and email about the Minnesota ads, but have yet to supply any response to the query. However, as the Tribune points out, marijuana falls into the same categories as tobacco and guns, just a couple of the items Google won’t allow ads for because they “cause damage, harm, or injury.”
That logic is fair until you consider that this is medical marijuana, not some illicit drug that causes cancer. Vireo founder Dr. Kyle Kinglsey makes this poignant point to the Tribune:
“As a physician, it’s hard to understand why Google willingly accepts ads that promote highly addictive painkillers, like OxyContin, that are responsible for thousands of deaths each year, but knowingly rejects medical cannabis ads that could, in many cases, be a significantly safer therapeutic option for patients,”
Kingsley said in a statement.
Medical marijuana provides an undeniable well-being to lives. Preventing people from accessing sensible data on the plant seems a bit short-sighted and not with the times.
Moreover, these types of ads aren’t even controversial ones promoting cannabis smoke. They’re simply standard, geo-targeted Google Ads that increase pageviews and exposure, two cogs of running a business in this day and age.