Seizing their collective power, DFL lawmakers from the Minnesota Senate and House, as well as cannabis advocates, held a press conference Thursday, January 5, to introduce legislation that would legalize adult-use cannabis.
“Minnesotans are ready, and I believe that 2023 is the year that we will legalize adult-use cannabis in Minnesota,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), who authored bill HF100. “That process starts today as we introduce a bill on the House floor.”
Stephenson said the bill will create a “safe, well-regulated, legal marketplace” where Minnesotans can grow, sell and buy cannabis. He also said the bill could help right the wrongs of the criminal justice system.
“It includes best practices for consumer protection, health, and public safety, ” said Stephenson. “Critically, it includes a robust expungement program so that people—and we should be very clear that it’s been disproportionately people of color—who have been caught in the criminal justice system due to cannabis offenses are able to move on with their lives.”
Rep. Stephenson noted that last year, then-Majority House Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler took the cannabis bill through 14 committees, and it passed in the House with a bi-partisan majority. He expects the same results this year, starting with the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee hearing on Wednesday, January 11.
The difference now is Democrats control the House, Senate, and governor’s office. Gov. Tim Walz signaled his support for the bill with a Facebook post on Thursday: “It’s time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota. I’m ready to sign it into law.”
The press conference was also attended by Sen. Lindsey Port, who authored the Senate bill; House Speaker Melissa Hortman; Rep. Jess Hanson; Rep. Aisha Gomez; Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten; Angela Dawson of 40 Acre Co-op, the Great Rise; Michael Ford of MN NORML; and Olivia Morawiecki of Kursiv Organics.
Dawson, president, and CEO of the 40 Acre Co-op, introduced herself as a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer who lives in Pine County, MN. Through 40 Acre Co-op, Dawson said she assists “people who have been socially disadvantaged and historically underrepresented” due to a lack of access to opportunities within the hemp and cannabis industry.
Dawson said the passage of the bill would help to address egregious public health outcomes between White and non-White Minnesotans due to a lack of equitable access to quality-of-life measures. She also stressed the economic opportunities that exist not only in communities of color but also for rural farmers.
“In the county that I live in, the health and food access and poverty measures are similar to that of Hennepin County, but we get half of the resources,” said Dawson. “People are looking for jobs in rural Minnesota, and they see cannabis as a clear opportunity and something that we’re really good at, especially in organized and sustainable practices,” she said.
The conference was rounded out by Morawiecki of Kursiv Organics who said she founded her business after using CBD and THC oil to relieve debilitating digestive issues. “After this experience, I understood the healing power of cannabis and its effectiveness in helping people recover from everyday ailments and a natural way to cope with illness.”
Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten (DFL-St. Paul), who became one of the first Black women elected to the Minnesota Senate during last year’s midterms, called legalizing cannabis, including expungement, a “racial justice issue.”
Oumou Verbeten reiterated the lawmakers’ commitment to passing the legislation. “We just got through a historic election where we now have Black women serving in the Minnesota Senate for the very first time, and I’m really proud to be one of those women along with my sister Zaynab Mohamed. We’re going to get this done in 2023, and we’re going to make sure it includes expungement and that we right these wrongs,” she said.