Minnesota’s New Cannabis Law
In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, legislation has recently boosted the established legalized medical cannabis law. At the end of May, Governor Tim Walz signed a bill that allows adults 21 and older with valid medical cards to use medical marijuana in smokable form via cannabis flower. Previously, patients were only permitted access to extracts or non-smokables in liquid or pill form through the two companies licensed to distribute medical cannabis in the state. In the United States, flower is the most popular form of cannabis purchased. It occupied the top three spots of overall purchases and accounts for 49% of all transactions. This law could change medical cannabis in Minnesota for the better.
What this Means for Consumers
This change is welcome news for tight budgets, as smokable cannabis is less expensive than products that require the process of extracting oil from the plant. Per Kyle Kingsley, a former doctor who started Vireo Health International, one of the state’s first medical cannabis companies, “Minnesotans can more easily access medical cannabis dispensed by licensed pharmacists and be monitored on our state prescription monitoring program.” Previously, Minnesota was only one of a few medically legal states that still did not allow patients to access flower medicine. Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said costs to patients could fall to around one-third the cost of the oils and pills currently available in the state.
The cost has been cited as the main reason Minnesota has one of the lower participation rates in the country, at 0.6%, despite an extensive list of eligible conditions. Some believe this new Minnesota cannabis law could significantly boost sales. The newly released MJBizFactbook projects 2021 Minnesota MMJ sales will reach $60 million to $70 million. The program currently has 34,163 registered patients, according to the state, among its overall population of 5,709,752. As a comparison point, Colorado’s population is 5,758,736, with 87,216 registered patients (1.51%), and Arkansas’s population is 3,017,804, with 76,779 registered patients (2.54%).
Improved Access to Cannabis
Minnesota also increased access via the approved bill which allows for curbside pickup and increases the number of patients per caregiver from one to six. One point of concern for some is the new ability of regulators to remove existing, qualifying health conditions from the no-prescribe list if they receive a petition from a member of the public or a task force. Under the existing medical marijuana program, only the cannabis commissioner was authorized to approve new conditions or modify existing conditions. The bill was part of a broader omnibus bill through a bicameral legislative conference committee and was related to healthcare in general. The new medical cannabis Minnesota law is scheduled to take effect by March 1, 2022, or once the state Commissioner of Health determines sufficient rules are adopted, and independent testing procedures and equipment are in place.
What did not pass into law this session was the stand-alone piece of legislation that would have legalized adult-use recreational cannabis and set up a retail system. Passed by the House, but not considered by the Senate, House File 600 would have expunged prior convictions, and allowed those 21 and up to possess up to 10 pounds of cannabis in their homes and two ounces in public. Also permissible under the failed bill was ownership of up to eight cannabis plants, four mature at a time, for personal use. If it had passed, it would have been one of the most progressive legal cannabis plans in the country.
A Fight for Equality
Supporters believe legalization will further bend the arc towards racial justice and equity since Black Minnesotans are disproportionately impacted by the state’s current laws banning marijuana use except for certain approved medical conditions. Black people in the state are five times more likely than white Minnesotans to be arrested for marijuana, according to a report from the ACLU. In December, the House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities, and recommended a series of policy changes that could resolve those issues. One way suggested to “address disproportionately harmful impacts on communities of color” in the legal system was for the legislature to pursue cannabis decriminalization and clear the records of those convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses, the report states. Although the recent failure of the recreational bill is a setback, it is not the end of the road for adult-use marijuana in Minnesota. Public support is a major factor: statewide polling information reveals 51% of residents want to legalize cannabis for recreational use, up from 30% in 2014.
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