In a rush to legalize cannabis last year, Democrats created numerous challenges for Minnesotans. Instead of repairing the problems in this bill, Senate Democrats on Friday, May 3, passed legislation that makes the licensure process even more convoluted and less fair for Minnesotans. This highly partisan bill fails to take any meaningful steps to address critical safety concerns–especially for children–or the problems that still exist due to a lack of local control and the complex and biased licensure process.

“Last session, Senate Republicans warned Democrats that their legislation to legalize cannabis was not yet ready,” Senator Jordan Rasmusson (R-Fergus Falls) said. “This bill failed to address key questions about our ability to ensure public safety, regulate cannabis at a local level or protect Minnesota children from a harmful product. Unfortunately, this year’s cannabis bill does nothing to answer Minnesotans’ many concerns and challenges.”

Last year’s legislation legalized possessing a product that is not widely available for sale across the state, except on select tribal lands. Further, it created loopholes for possession by minors and failed to prohibit consumption and possession near schools.

“We need to implement measures to ensure Minnesota children are not set on a path to develop potentially harmful habits,” Sen. Rasmusson shared. “Yet this legislation does not do enough to protect our children from the effects of a harmful drug.”

That is why Republicans offered amendments to address these shortcomings and align penalties for minor consumption, including proposals to:

• Treat underage cannabis the same as underage alcohol

• Increase the penalty for underage cannabis from a petty misdemeanor to a misdemeanor

Democrats refused to accept these changes. However, Republicans were successful in adopting the following consumer protection measures:

• Accelerate cannabis and substance use education requirement in schools so that it would begin one year earlier, during the 2025-26 school year

• Require more robust labeling requirements for the potential side effects of cannabis

• Add candy or desserts to the cannabis advertising prohibition that currently includes cartoon figures, toys or animals

• Add one seat on the Cannabis Advisory Council for a clinical pharmacist

The cannabis licensure structure created last session weaves a complex classification system that favors select groups, including those with a criminal past. This year’s Office of Cannabis Management bill further complicates the system. Notably, this legislation contains controversial social equity language to use a lottery system to award only select constituencies the coveted early licenses.

“Licensure structures should prioritize consumer safety and regulatory compliance,” said Sen. Rasmusson. “We should not be giving license preference for the sale of an intoxicating substance to those with a track record of breaking the law. Instead, I believe we should prioritize equality in the licensure structure and award it based on the merit of the applicant.”

To address concerns with the licensure process, Senate Republicans offered key amendments to make the structure fairer for all Minnesotans, including language to:

• Award licenses solely on a merit basis instead of social equity requirements

• Expand the list of ineligible persons to exclude licensure for those who have committed a serious crime of violence (murder, rape, robbery, assault, etc.)

These amendments failed on party-line votes, but Republicans succeeded in adding language to address a concern with the cannabis licensure structure. This amendment makes any person or business with a criminal conviction for selling cannabis illegally or violating cannabis laws during this interim phase ineligible for a license.

A Republican amendment to allow women-owned businesses to qualify under the social equity measures was added with unanimous support.

Finally, under the cannabis legalization bill from last year, local communities cannot deny cannabis licenses and have limited ability to regulate the number and location of facilities selling cannabis.

“Local communities continue to have little role in the availability of cannabis in their communities. Every community has different approaches, and this bill doesn’t offer enough to give them control over the safety and priorities of their communities,” Sen. Rasmusson added.

Senate Republicans introduced an amendment to allow local units of government to preempt the state law that requires them to allow businesses in their jurisdictions. They also tried to address concerns about public consumption, but both proposals failed on a party-line vote. However, Republicans were successful in adopting an amendment to allow cities to operate their own cannabis shops, much the same way they do have municipal liquor.