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Minnesota on track to legalize recreational marijuana after legislature advances bill to governor

<i>Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Walz has said he plans to sign the bill into law
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Walz has said he plans to sign the bill into law

By Sydney Kashiwagi, CNN

Washington (CNN) — A bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota is on its way to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for his signature after the state Senate gave the legislation its final stamp of approval following weeks of debate.

The Minnesota Senate voted 34-32 early Saturday morning after the measure had cleared the state House with slim bipartisan support last week. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, as the state Democratic outfit is known, controls both legislative chambers.

Walz has said he plans to sign the bill into law, which would make Minnesota the 23rd state to legalize adult-use cannabis and the third Midwestern state to do so. CNN has reached out to Walz’s office for comment.

Under the measure, Minnesota residents who are 21 years and older would be able to possess up to two ounces of marijuana flower in public and two pounds at home starting August 1. The bill would also give people with marijuana convictions a chance to clear their records by automatically expunging low-level convictions and establishing a review board to determine eligibility for higher-level offenses.

The measure would also set up an Office of Cannabis Management, which would oversee the regulation and sale of cannabis products in the state.

“Over the last three years, DFLers in the legislature have worked and listened to build a Minnesota-specific model for cannabis legalization,” Democratic state Rep. Zack Stephenson, the bill’s sponsor, said in a news release ahead of the final passage.

“This bill creates a safe, well-regulated legal marketplace, and includes best practices for consumer protection, health, and public safety. It also prioritizes a robust expungement program, so people who have been disproportionately impacted by our current cannabis laws can move on with their lives. It is time for legalization, and I’m proud to carry this bill forward,” he added.

While Stephenson said the regulatory and expungement efforts would begin once the law takes effect, he emphasized on Twitter that changes would not happen overnight. He does not expect licensed dispensaries for up to 18 months, and he noted that expunging “tens of thousands” of past cannabis convictions could take years to complete.

The bill jumped through many hoops before it passed both chambers of the state legislature. Since it was introduced in January, the legislation had been reviewed by more than a dozen committees before reaching the House floor.

Though it passed in the House earlier this week 73-57, with CNN affiliate WCCO reporting that five Republicans had voted in favor of the bill, state GOP lawmakers have largely opposed it.

“While many Minnesotans are increasingly supportive of legalization of cannabis, this bill is not ready. It will make our roads less safe, limit local decision making for our communities, put our kids’ health at risk, and grow government with more than 100 new bureaucrats to enforce convoluted licensing regulations,” Republican state Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, who sat on the bill’s conference committee, told CNN in a statement. “It’s simply wrong for the Democrats to plow ahead with legislation they know will require fixing in the very near future.”

The marijuana bill is the latest progressive policy that the DFL-led legislature has been able to pass this session, which ends Monday

Walz has signed legislation this session that will soon restore the voting rights of thousands of convicted felons. He also signed a measure codifying the right to abortion into state law and recently signed a package of bills that outlaw so-called conversion therapy in the state and make Minnesota a safe haven for people to access abortion and gender-affirming care from out of state.

On Friday, Walz also signed a new law with extensive new gun safety restrictions, including a “red flag” provision that will allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from a person believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

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