ST. PAUL -- Minnesota House Democrats will try again this year to make recreational marijuana legal in the state.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has authored a bill for cannabis legalization and criminal record expungement. It is the same bill he introduced last year, which did not get much traction.

He says it would set up a regulatory board, create a licensing system, and create an opportunity for small business owners.

Retailers would have to be licensed, they would have to be stand-alone businesses, and go through a rigorous application process.  We'd make sure that one owner can't own the whole marketplace.

Passage of the bill is a longshot with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and other Republican Senators not interested in legalizing marijuana. In a statement, Gazekla says:

We are focused on the Minnesota Priorities that balance the budget without raising taxes, safely reopen schools and businesses to recover our economy, and support families. I would not consider legalizing recreational marijuana as a Minnesota priority. I am open to looking at additional medicinal uses and a conversation around drug sentencing. My main concerns are the unintended consequences of recreational pot similar to the concerns we all have about tobacco, drinking, or prescription drug abuse. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. We're just starting to learn about legalization's adverse effects in other states like Colorado and Washington. There is no reason to rush this in Minnesota without learning more.

 

Political Insider Blois Olson says the idea of legalization is a popular one though among a majority of Minnesotans.

It's popular in rural areas and urban areas, it's popular amongst conservatives, so yet it is a populist issue and I have no doubt that's why democrats are on top of it and wanting to push it.

Minnesota has four major political parties right now.  Besides the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Republican Party, there is the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party and the Legal Marijuana Now Party.

Winkler says his bill would tax cannabis but it would be one of the lowest tax rates on cannabis in the country.

Our goal is to move an illegal marketplace into a safe and legal marketplace, so if our taxes are too high or our regulations are too challenging people will continue to buy cannabis on the black market.

Winkler says estimates on revenue are rough right now but could be as much as $60 million annual to start with.

He says with South Dakota making it legal there's no doubt Minnesotans will go across the border to buy marijuana.  He says for that reason, North Dakota's state legislature is also considering the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Winkler would prefer the legalization process take place with the passage of the state legislature and signed into law by the governor instead of a constitutional amendment question on the ballot. He says that way adjustments could be made to the bill as needed.

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