ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minnesota's Democratic Governor Tim Walz signed a cannabis legalization bill into law early Tuesday afternoon, making the state the 23rd to legalize marijuana for recreational use starting Aug. 1.
The bill, which allows Minnesotans 21 and older to purchase, possess and use cannabis, was a plank in Walz’s 2018 campaign and a bigger one in his 2022 run for reelection. It also contains a regulatory scheme for a legal weed market, including a 10% sales tax and the establishment of an Office of Cannabis Management for regulation and enforcement purposes.
“It’s going to take us a bit of time to get this up and going,” Walz said at a bill-signing ceremony shortly after noon on Tuesday, “but I assure Minnesotans that a lot of thought has gone into this.”
Walz put particular emphasis on the bill’s provisions for expungement of many cannabis-related criminal records.
“We’ve got 50 years of folks that we’ve been arresting, and getting records on them,” he said. “It’s not going to unwind immediately, but we feel a sense of urgency around that. We’ll start that process this summer and get moving on that, get folks’ records cleared up.”
Also speaking at the signing were the bill’s legislative sponsors – Senator Lindsey Port, D-Burnsville, and Representative Zack Stephenson, D-Coon Rapids – and former Governor Jesse Ventura, who openly supported legalization during his 1999-2003 term in the governor’s mansion. Port, Stephenson and Walz all paid homage to Ventura and other early cannabis legalization crusaders, with Walz noting that he’d spent many state fairs sitting in a booth across from Minnesota’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, or NORML, and Stephenson saying that this legislature was “just the anchor team of that race, carrying the baton across the finish line.”
Ventura called back to his recent testimony before the state Senate, in which he said that he and wife Terry Ventura moved to Colorado after that state legalized medical marijuana to address Terry’s seizures.
“My wife took the first three drops under the tongue and has not had a seizure since. None,” Ventura said at that time. “I kind of took the attitude of Dirty Harry Callahan when I said ‘well, then the law is wrong, because I’m putting my wife ahead of Minnesota law.’”
At Tuesday’s signing, in between questions about license-tab fees – a bugbear of his 1998 campaign – Ventura expounded on the bill’s impacts.
“After years of prohibition, we didn’t want anyone to go through what the first lady and I went through,” he said. “It’s very wonderful to see a dream of yours, over 20 years ago, finally happen today, and I’m still alive to see it.”
Minnesota’s legal marijuana market is expected to take over a year to be established, with the Office of Cannabis Management’s website stating that it expects retail sales to begin early in 2025. Meanwhile, transport and public possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower in public will become legal Aug. 1, as will possession of up to two pounds of flower in private homes.
The bill also includes provisions which would make marijuana business ownership easier for members of communities, including communities of color, who have historically seen disproportionate impacts from marijuana prohibition.
Legalization is one of a number of progressive reforms made by Minnesota Democrats in the last year, thanks to a state-government trifecta narrowly won by the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party’s trifecta in 2022. Also on that list are a sweeping right-to-repair law, a paid family and medical leave bill that grants workers up to 12 weeks off a year with partial pay for either type of leave, capped at 20 weeks total, and a trans-refuge bill protecting seekers of gender-affirming care who come to Minnesota from other states.
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