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Minnesota Leads A Number Of States Eyeing Cannabis Reform This Year

January 17, 2023

As cannabis legalization becomes a reality in more states, the political possibilities continue to broaden in others where the issue would have been dead on arrival just a few years ago. Recreational cannabis has now made such progress on both coasts that the focus now must turn inward to the Midwest and South, where the opinions of lawmakers have been slower to change. A number of these states are now on the cusp of reform, either due to changing winds in state capitol buildings or pressure from voters.

Perhaps the most promising state looking to enact legalization this year is Minnesota. Governor Tim Walz has been vocal in his support of the issue and recently circulated an email urging supporters to sign a petition supporting cannabis reform. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor party now controls both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office, simplifying a bill’s path to signing. Legislators are already at work on the matter and unveiled a revised legalization bill in recent days.

That bill is by and large consistent with standard legalization legislation–in addition to establishing a regulatory framework it would promote social equity and expunge cannabis criminal records–but also includes some provisions specific to the state. Most notably, it adds a license category for businesses to sell “lower-potency edible products,” an accommodation for last year’s legislation that legalized THC in food and drink. Licensees of this type would be permitted to offer on-site consumption if they have a liquor license, which would make Minnesota a first-in-the-nation test case for allowing mixed spaces where both alcohol and cannabis can be bought and consumed together.

Elsewhere, Hawaii is ripe for change. New governor Josh Green has pledged to sign legalization legislation that reaches his desk, saying in a debate last fall, “I think that people already have moved past that culturally as a concern.” Representative Jeanné Kapela will lead the charge and plans to file legislation. “We now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” she said. “Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of moralities. Agricultural and business practices would be based on sustainable and indigenous cultivation methods, ensuring that cannabis operations uplift the needs of U.S. residents, the needs of Hawaii’s people, not the profits of multi-state corporations.”

A state with somewhat longer odds toward legalization is Ohio. A proposal that was intended for last fall’s ballot has found a second life in the new legislative session. The proposal, from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, was dropped from the ballot as part of a lawsuit settlement but it has now been introduced to the state’s General Assembly by state Secretary of State Frank LaRose. It faces strong opposition from both state legislators and Ohio governor Mike DeWine, but they have few good options for defeating the proposal: either they enact it as law or it reverts back to voters to decide on the ballot. A majority of Ohio residents support legalizing cannabis, according to a Siena poll from the fall, with 81% of residents age 35-49 in favor.—Danny Sullivan

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