Despite the vast opposition it’s getting from the GOP, the Minnesota House of Representatives is moving a measure forward that would legalize recreational cannabis. The bill, titled HF 600, just cleared its ninth House committee this week.
“A bill that has had to make it through this many committee stops? I can’t think of one,” said DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler about the lengthy journey the bill has been on so far.
Next up, the plan is to have the full House vote on HF 600 in May, which will mark a historical moment, as this is the furthest a bill of this kind has ever made it in the state. However, there is still concern about the Minnesota Senate, as it is Republican-controlled and has prevented cannabis bills from moving forward in the past. But Winkler is hoping to move forward with support from both sides of the aisle.
“We are harming people through our prohibition of cannabis, and it is not a legitimate use of the criminal justice system to do that when large majorities of the public think it should be a safe, legal product,” he said.
And this may not be such a far-flung dream, as HF 600 also has support from the Minnesota ACLU. Julia Decker, who represents the organization, said the bill will be a great way to address racial disparities in law enforcement, as Black Minnesotans are more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white residents.
“Marijuana criminalization in particular has been a key driver of racial disparities and mass incarceration,” Decker said. “So, now more than ever, it’s time for the Legislature to recognize the disparate harms this criminalization has inflicted.”
Still, despite the positive movement on this, there is still some opposition. Jeff Potts of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, along with other concerned law enforcement officials, spoke out against the bill. Potts claims he is concerned about traffic safety.
“Driving while impaired by any substance, including marijuana, is dangerous,” Potts said. “Marijuana, like alcohol, negatively affects a number of skills required for safe driving.”
Additionally, no Republicans in the House committee voted for the bill, and some even spoke out specifically against it. Brain Johnson, a Republican representative from Cambridge, claims that he doesn’t feel confident about the legislation.
“This needs a lot more study, not only in this committee but many committees,” Johnson said. “This bill I don’t believe is ready for prime time, and I’m going to ask my members to vote no because there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.”
Does HF 600 Have A Shot At Success?
If the bill does manage to make it all the way through to the signing stage, Governor Tim Walz supports legal cannabis and this bill in particular…but the real question will be whether HF 600 can make it through the Senate to become law during this legislative session.
Some senators have already explained that they don’t feel there is much hope. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelika has already said he doesn’t consider recreational legalization a priority. He is also worried about the consequences of legalization.
Still, Winkler remains hopeful that he will receive bipartisan support and get the Republicans on board with the bill. He used the ballot that passed in South Dakota as a reason to keep the hope alive.
“Legalization received almost as many votes in South Dakota as Donald Trump did. It’s not a partisan issue,” Winkler said. “It’s a question of whether Republican elected officials are ready to step up and listen to their voters.”
It will be a long shot if legal cannabis actually gets passed this session in Minnesota, but as long as dedicated activists keep fighting for it, their day is coming.