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Minnesota Senate approves amended cannabis legalization bill by 1 vote

The measure will now go to conference committee to iron out differences.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota is another step closer to adult-use cannabis for recreational use, after the Minnesota Senate voted 34-33 in favor of legalization on Friday.

Following the party-line vote, the bill now must go to a conference committee to iron out differences with the version passed in the Minnesota House earlier this week, then face a final vote in each chamber before it could go to the desk of Governor Walz.

A series of amendments were added to the measure before the Senate vote, which included a provision that would allow local governments to impose restrictions on cannabis retailers.

Supporters of recreational cannabis felt the 2023 session would be their best chance yet at legalization, with the trifecta of DFL control in the House, Senate and governor's office.

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.

The measure would also expunge previous low-level marijuana-related criminal convictions, as supporters argue such convictions disproportionately affect communities of color.

“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, DFL Sen. Lindsey Port, of Burnsville, told her colleagues. 

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.  

“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.

If the bill is signed into law, possession would become legal this summer, and decriminalization would go into effect in August of this year for the amounts prescribed in the bill. It would take longer for the state to begin issuing licenses to dispensaries and other newly-legal businesses because an entire state regulatory agency would need to be created first.

Gov. Walz has pledged to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Minnesota would become the 23rd state to legalize adult-use cannabis.

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