The Democratic leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives said on Tuesday that passing the state’s newly enacted law allowing low-THC edibles for adults was an “intentional” legislative step meant to open the door to broader marijuana legalization that is opposed by many Republican colleagues who ultimately voted for the incremental reform.
At a press briefing, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL), who has consistently championed legalization in the legislature, emphasized that the legislation that took effect last week was debated and passed in a public forum, so GOP members who have since expressed reservations about the edibles provisions after voting in favor of the bill don’t exactly have an excuse.
In the end, Republican lawmakers in the state who don’t want to see adult-use legalization only have themselves to blame for paving the path for more comprehensive marijuana legislation down the line, Winkler suggested.
“We absolutely did this on purpose. It was an intentional step forward,” the leader said, “and it is an opportunity for Minnesota businesses and Minnesota consumers to have access to a product that can be safe and is widely available and used today—however, through an illicit marketplace.”
He also said that he and his colleagues have been strategic by not necessarily publicizing the edible policy change in the new law, which further establishes regulations for products infused with delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids.
While the legislating that went behind this bill “was all done in the public eye,” he and his colleagues felt that “drawing attention to this change in the regulatory structure” before the legislation was passed might have compromised its bipartisan support.
“We have a lot of work to do in Minnesota on cannabis legalization, but this is an important step forward—and the door is now open to consumers having access to products containing THC that many of them prefer to consume,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to go backwards.”
Winkler was joined at the press conference by bill sponsor Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL), Rep. Jess Hanson (DFL) and hemp industry stakeholders. The lawmakers discussed the new law and how it plays into their cannabis reform agenda going forward.
The now-effective policy clarifies that adults 21 and older can possess and consume hemp-based edibles and beverages that contain up to five milligrams of THC per serving, with a maximum 50 milligrams THC per package. The products cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, per state and federal hemp statute.
The law, which Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed early last month, prompted Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Jim Abeler (R) to call for a rollback because he was under the impression that the bill he voted for only concerned delta-8 THC rules.
Winkler, who is currently running for Hennepin County Attorney, responded by calling the request “ridiculous.”
It was the hope of activists that the enactment of the THC edibles legislation would rouse legislators to take comprehensive legalization more seriously.
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Edelson, who sponsored the cannabis bill, said at Tuesday’s briefing that while the measure does provide new testing, labeling and packaging requirements for hemp products—including restrictions on labeling that appeals to children—she’s aware that there are parts of the law that may be tweaked.
Specifically, she talked about potential enforcement challenges associated with gummies, chocolates and other candies that could potentially appeal to children and are being infused with low concentrations of THC.
“Later this week, I’ll be having more information about how we plan to handle that as a state,” she said. “There is going to be some problems in terms of how do we enforce this.”
The governor, for his part, signaled that he’d be unlikely to sign any bill scaling back the overall new policy allowing edibles if he is reelected in November, saying in a tweet last week that it is a “good first step to expand our economy, but there’s more to do.”
The cannabis reform development in Minnesota is largely the result of an effort to permanently correct a legislative drafting problem that emerged after state lawmakers sought to align Minnesota’s hemp policy with that of the federal government.
Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (D) tried in May to advance broader legalization through a a procedural mechanism that would have required a supermajority of 41 votes to advance. But it failed, as expected. A House companion version did pass that full chamber last year.
Back in January, Winkler and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.
Winkler said at the time that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, was the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
Separately, certain Democrats including staff for Winkler have found themselves caught up in a controversy over an alleged (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to change the name of a third party focused on marijuana that some have seen as undercutting Democratic support on the ballot in past cycles to one instead meant to appeal to far-right conservatives in an apparent attempt to siphon votes away from Republicans in the upcoming election.
For his part, the governor is supportive of marijuana legalization, and he included funding to implement the reform in his annual budget request to lawmakers in January.
While he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his prior budget request, Walz said this year that he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with the House-passed bill.
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but it does not seem that will happen this year.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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