On May 5, 2020, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) introduced his long-awaited legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis with a focus on equity. The comprehensive bill — which Winkler deemed “the best legalization bill in the country” — reflects stakeholder input, including from his "Be Heard on Cannabis" tour over the fall and winter of 2019, and from organizations including MPP. Check out our summary here.
Unfortunately, the bill's introduction was delayed by the coronavirus, and it didn’t advance before the legislature adjourned on May 18, 2020. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) has said the Republican caucus is strongly opposed, and that legalization would not pass the Senate.
Legalization would create tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue, and it would reduce unnecessary stops, searches, and arrests that unfairly and unequally target Black Minnesotans. A 2020 ACLU report shows Minnesota has the eighth worst racial disparities in the nation, with Black individuals 5.4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, despite nearly identical use rates.
Under Gazelka’s and Sen. Michelle Benson’s leadership, the Senate killed even a modest, House-passed proposal to allow whole-plant, raw medical cannabis. Without this reform, the costs of medical cannabis will remain out of reach for many Minnesotans.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program makes adjustments to improve safe access in light of the coronavirus
As was the case in every other medical cannabis state, medical cannabis businesses were allowed to remain open during Minnesota’s Safer At Home order — along with other health and medical businesses. In addition, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order to improve patient access to medical cannabis in these extraordinary times. This included allowing certifications by telemedicine, allowing curbside pickup, extending renewal deadlines, and allowing temporary caregivers.
While all of those are important improvements, the governor should also allow home delivery during the pandemic. Delivery allows for more social distancing and would reduce the burden on the seriously ill and their caregivers. You can call Gov. Walz at 651-201-3400, send him a note here, or contact him on Twitter.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program expands, but remains flawed
In 2014, then-Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a medical marijuana program after insisting on modifications that made it extremely restrictive and that drive up the costs of medical cannabis.
After the first year of the program, 92% of patients reported some benefit from their treatment, and 67% reported a great deal of benefit. However, more than half of the patients who registered and made purchases within the first six months stopped purchasing medical cannabis from dispensaries by the end of 2016. In the same survey, 86% of patients reported that they found medical cannabis to be at least somewhat unaffordable, with 29% reporting prices as very prohibitive.
Local advocates, often with assistance from MPP, have petitioned the Minnesota Office of Medical Cannabis to add qualifying conditions. As a result, the program has slowly expanded. The law required the office to consider adding intractable pain, which it approved in 2015. Then, following the petition process, it added PTSD in 2016, obstructive sleep apnea and autism in late 2017, Alzheimer’s disease in 2018, and chronic pain in 2019. The health department also approved macular degeneration, but it was rejected by the legislature.