Recreational marijuana bill gets first hearing in the Minnesota House

Briana Bierschbach, Star Tribune
·2 min read

A renewed push to legalize recreational marijuana for adults is getting its first hearing in the Minnesota Legislature on Wednesday.

The House Commerce Committee is taking public testimony on the bill at 3 p.m. and is expected to vote on the legislation.

Minnesota allows cannabis use only for certain medical conditions, but DFL Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana as a criminal justice reform measure that could also generate new state revenue. The bill, sponsored by House DFL Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, would expunge misdemeanor-level cannabis convictions from people's records. Higher-level convictions would go before an expungement review board.

"As a prosecutor, I've seen firsthand the amount of resources the state expends on current cannabis restrictions," said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, chair of the Commerce Committee. "We ought to be strategic in where these resources are going so we can be efficient in how we address more pressing public safety needs."

But Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate remain opposed to the measure, saying legalizing marijuana is not a top priority this session.

It's the first Minnesota hearing on recreational marijuana legislation since 2019, when Senate Republicans defeated a DFL-sponsored bill in the judiciary committee. House Democrats held a hearing that year on creating a task force to explore recreational marijuana. Last session, the introduction of their legal marijuana bill was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hearing also comes on the heels of neighboring South Dakota's vote last fall to legalize recreational marijuana, although its fate is pending a legal challenge and appeal to the state's Supreme Court. Fifteen states have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers proposed legalization in his state budget and supporters in North Dakota are trying to get it on the 2022 ballot.

It's also a political issue for state Democrats, who've said a handful of third-party pro-legalization candidates on the ballot last year pulled votes from their candidates and cost them several key races in the battle for control of the state Senate.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042

Twitter: @bbierschbach