Minnesota Senate Approves Bill To Accelerate Licensing of Weed Businesses

The Minnesota Senate has approved a bill to accelerate the licensing of recreational marijuana cultivators.

The Minnesota state Senate last week approved a bill to accelerate the licensing of cannabis businesses, narrowly approving the measure by a vote of 34-32. If passed by the legislature and signed into law, the legislation would set the stage for cultivators to begin growing regulated weed by the end of the year.

Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in May 2023, with provisions allowing adults to possess up to two ounces of cannabis in a public place and up to two pounds of weed at home beginning on August 1 of last year. The measure also allows adults to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home, including four mature, flowering plants.

The bill also legalized the cultivation and sale of regulated cannabis by licensed businesses, with dispensary sales of recreational marijuana anticipated to start in January 2025. Under legislation passed by the Minnesota Senate on Friday, state regulators would be able to issue preliminary approval for cannabis cultivators beginning this summer. Supporters of the bill say the legislation will allow prospective regulated cultivators to line up funding for their operations, secure a business location and complete other tasks related to launching their business.

“This newly regulated, legalized and regulated industry is in its infancy, and we’re here to continue the work we started last year,” said Democratic Senator Lindsey Port, according to a report from the Albert Lea Tribune. “Like any new industry, it will not be fully grown on day one. This bill works to ensure a successful market launch and support the industry and Minnesotans involved in this industry as it grows and develops.”

The legislation also tasks the Minnesota Office of Cannabis Management with regulating hemp-derived cannabinoids and medical marijuana, which are currently regulated by the state Department of Health. The office recommended many of the provisions of the bill to help facilitate the timely transition to regulated sales of recreational marijuana. Under the bill, companies given early approval to grow adult-use cannabis would temporarily be subject to the state’s existing rules for medical marijuana cultivation until the Office of Cannabis Management finalizes recreational marijuana regulations later this year.

Republican Lawmakers Oppose Legislation

The bill was opposed by many Republican lawmakers who expressed concerns that establishing temporary regulations that might vary from the forthcoming permanent rules could be problematic. They also balked at allowing businesses to begin growing recreational weed before they are licensed by the state.

“I understand that there are folks that want to have the cannabis industry open and running today,” said Republican Senator Jordan Rasmusson. “But I think for the health and safety of Minnesotans for public safety, for just regulatory integrity, and an open and transparent process that would allow Minnesotans to engage on rulemaking, it’s really important that we don’t do an end-around.”

Opponents of the bill are concerned that accelerating the pace to approve regulated cultivators could lead to unintended consequences. The also were concerned about cannabis being obtained by young people and proposed an amendment that would make possession of weed by minors a misdemeanor criminal offense.

“How can we say it’s wrong and a petty misdemeanor or maybe even a misdemeanor for repeat offenses for a child to be drinking a beer, but it’s okay for them to be walking down the street with a bag of marijuana or smoking a joint?” said Senator Eric Pratt. “Where’s the consistency in that?”

Democratic Governor Tim Walz said that he is monitoring developments in the legislation and noted that he is aware that some people are not comfortable with the prospect of allowing cultivation to begin by the end of the year, stressing that the regulations must include quality standards for cannabis cultivators.

“We certainly hear people on this. I think there’s some potential there,” Walz told reporters earlier this week. “We’re trying the best we can, but we’re not going to cut corners.”

The bill was approved with amendments by the Minnesota House of Representatives last month. The legislation will now head to a conference committee, where lawmakers from both chambers of the legislature will reconcile differences between the two versions of the amended bill.

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