Minnesota bill legalizing recreational pot passes Senate, heads to governor’s desk

FILE – Marijuana plants grow at a Minnesota Medical Solutions greenhouse on May 5, 2015, in Otsego, Minn. Senators in Minnesota passed a bill Saturday, May 20, 2023, that would legalize recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21, making it the 23rd state to legalize adult-use cannabis. The measure has already been approved by the House and now goes to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign it into law. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Senators in Minnesota passed a bill Saturday that would allow recreational marijuana use by people over the age of 21 and make it the 23rd state to legalize the substance for adults.

The measure has already been approved by the House and now goes to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has pledged to sign it into law.

Supporters of the bill said it would improve public health and safety and further social justice, while opponents said health and safety would actually worsen.

Under the measure it would become legal by Aug. 1 to possess, use and grow marijuana at home. Retail sales at dispensaries would probably be at least a year away.

It includes a 10% tax on cannabis products on top of existing sales taxes and limits possession of cannabis flower to 2 pounds at home and 2 ounces in public. Other possession caps include 800 milligrams of THC in gummies and other edibles and 8 grams of cannabis concentrate.

Minnesotans who have been convicted of misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor possession would get their records automatically expunged, though the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has estimated it will take until August of next year to process them all.

People convicted of selling marijuana or other more serious but nonviolent pot-related offenses that would no longer be crimes or would become lesser offenses could apply to have their records cleared or sentences reduced.

Local governments would get more negotiating authority on limiting the number of dispensaries and keeping them away from schools, but may not ban them altogether.

Republican Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, of Fergus Falls, spoke in opposition on the Senate floor Saturday.

“The fundamental flaw with this bill is that the starting point of it from proponents has been about creating an industry to fit their ideology,” Rasmusson said.

He said the measure gives “bonus points” to people who have committed drug crimes in the past, inadequately addresses law enforcement concerns about possession limits and is driven by commercial interests.

Democratic Sen. Lindsey Port, of Burnsville, countered that it would protect children from harmful effects of the illicit market by legalizing and regulating marijuana, reduce risks to public health and safety and reinvest in communities harmed by previous marijuana laws.

“Minnesotans are ready. Let’s legalize, regulate and expunge,” Port said.

The bill passed 34-32 on a party-line vote.

Democrats took full control of state government as the Legislature convened for its 2023 session, the first time in eight years they have held the trifecta of both chambers plus the governor’s office, putting them in position to pass a long list of legislative priorities that the previous Senate Republican majority had blocked.

On Friday the governor signed two gun safety measures. And last month he signed a measure ensuring Minnesota will not cooperate with attempts to prosecute out-of-state patients seeking reproductive or gender-affirming health care.