Cannabis advocates around Minnesota recently celebrated a small victory in their fight for broader access to commercial marijuana across the state. On Thursday, June 2nd, Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a bill that allows hemp businesses to legally cultivate and commercialize marijuana products.
In an April 2022 tweet, Walz said, “It’s time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota.” This legislation seeks to create provisions for CBD-infused foods and beverages, as Walz mentions in his tweet.
Despite his recent comments on the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in the state, Walz chose not to comment on the cannabis provisions specifically in a recent press conference to address the bill. The governor claimed that the legislation targeted issues brought on by the current opioid crisis.
Hemp, which was legalized in a 2018 Minnesota Farm Bill, is now approved for commercialization in the state, according to the recent bill. This legislation accounts for an issue with the 2018 bill, which made little to no provisions for the marketing of hemp.
The new legislation prohibits the sale of cannabinoids to anyone younger than 21. Additionally, the bill introduces new requirements for how hemp products are tested, packaged, and labeled.
In terms of CBD provisions, the bill allows all hemp-derived cannabinoids to be sold commercially if they are below the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC. This includes all foods, topical treatments, beverages, and other CBD products. The legal limit for food and beverages infused with CBD is 50 mg THC per package and 5 mg per serving.
This will remain the federal limit for all THC compounds, which have, until now, been given little legislative provision. With this bill’s signing and the 2018 Farm Bill, federal allowances now extend to psychoactive substances such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC.
Although broader marijuana policy reform has not been achieved in the Senate, this bill and others like it represent a genuine step in the journey towards marijuana legalization. Democratic leaders around the country continue to work towards a vote on more widespread marijuana legalization.
Similar measures have been introduced to expand Minnesota’s approach to marijuana decriminalization. Advocates have attempted to include non-flower forms of cannabis in recent legislation, meeting difficulties and opposition along the way. The passing of the recent bill indicates a minor success as cannabis advocates look toward more significant reform in the 2023 session.
Minnesota Democrats have faced many challenges in their efforts toward legalization, including an attempt to highlight opponents to Democratic support on the ballot by changing the name of the third party to one that would appeal to the conservatives who would seek to withhold their votes for pro-marijuana legislation in upcoming elections.
In years past, Gov. Walz has been less aggressive in his budget request for marijuana policy reform, with more of his efforts taking shape in the form of expanded access to cannabis products.
In 2019, the governor signed a bill that worked to expand Minnesota’s approach to medical marijuana policy by giving patients access to medically-approved smokable hemp products. This was one of several of Walz’s efforts to implement reform ahead of legalization in the state.
In this session, however, the governor has worked to introduce a market for adult-use marijuana that aligns with the bill passed in the House earlier this year. In his January 2022 budget request, the governor included specific funding to make legislation like this bill a reality. Walz’s recent legislation is the product of a more protracted fight for broader marijuana reform in Minnesota.
The state has historically been more progressive in decriminalization and legalization; marijuana was decriminalized in 1976, and early allowances were made in 2014 for the use of medical marijuana, with expanded access to medicinal hemp products introduced in 2019.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Minnesota congressional chamber indicated that 56 percent of the state’s residents favor legalization. A more recent survey earlier this year suggested that this number has risen to 58 percent of Minnesota residents in favor of legalization.
In May of 2022, Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (D) proposed a procedural mechanism that would create space for broader decriminalization and legalization. A similar companion to the mechanism passed in the House chamber last year. The proposal would have required a supermajority of 41 votes to pass, and despite López Franzen’s best efforts, it failed.
Minnesota House of Representatives Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has proposed similar legislation, most notably in the form of HF600, Minnesota’s cannabis legalization bill, which seeks to legalize and regulate cannabis products while simultaneously expunging most cannabis convictions.
Winkler has sought to expand commercial access to cannabis products in many additional ways, claiming that each bill lawmakers propose is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings, and public listening sessions.”
In an interview with the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, Winkler addressed the challenges associated with legalizing marijuana products and the disparities in equitable access across the board.
“The criminal justice system approach to dealing with cannabis creates more harm than cannabis does itself,” Winkler said. “We can do all of the good to address the harms of cannabis without incarcerating people, without using the criminal justice system to lock people up, or provide collateral consequences that can last a lifetime for a product that most people think should be legal.”
In 2020, Winkler commented on a vote to increase access to marijuana products, noting that if Minnesota Senate Republicans do not pass legislation, he hopes the issue will be in the hands of the voters on the 2022 ballot.
Whether such a vote will be on the ballot is unclear. Still, legislation like last week’s landmark bill is key to expanding commercial access to marijuana in Minnesota.