Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday — yes, on 4/20 — and cheered a series of potential small changes to cannabis laws, while acknowledging their primary goal appears to be going nowhere in the Minnesota Legislature this year.
Momentum around the issue has grown in recent years. It culminated last spring when the Democrat-led House passed a bill for the first time ever to legalize recreational use, which DFL Gov. Tim Walz and six Republican House members supported.
"It's time to legalize adult-use cannabis and expunge cannabis convictions in Minnesota," Walz tweeted Wednesday, and some sponsors of the House DFL bill to change the law participated in a "Legalize It" event.
At the Capitol rally, legislators from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of legalization.
"If you are going to prohibit something, well, it better be dang dangerous. It better lead to death. And that's not what we have with cannabis," said Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine.
However, Senate Republicans have opposed the change, and the issue has largely faded from the limelight this legislative session.
It could remain on hold for years to come.
Republicans are well-positioned to pick up more legislative seats and are attempting to oust Walz in the November election. If that happens, the chances of a deal on recreational marijuana could be far off for Minnesota.
Nonetheless, advocates at Wednesday's rally said they hope to see incremental changes this session.
There was a "humongous victory" last month when the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy decided that trace amounts of THC in hemp products do not violate the Controlled Substances Act, said Kurtis Hanna, lobbyist for the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Hanna said they hope legislators will permanently codify that change into state law.
Broad policy and spending bills this session include some cannabis law reform.
Minnesotans caught possessing or selling 42.5 grams or less of marijuana currently get a petty misdemeanor rather than a felony — but that lower-level ticket only applies to the flower, not to products such as edibles. The House public safety package would change that to include nonflower marijuana mixtures that weigh 8 grams or less. That bill would also restore the ability to carry a gun after a minor marijuana offense is expunged, and establishes a legal defense for medical cannabis patients from outside the state who bring their marijuana with them to Minnesota.
But it remains to be seen whether the House and Senate will reach a compromise on their sweeping public safety bills, which differ dramatically.
The Minnesota Department of Health is also making a couple of changes to the state's medical cannabis program this year. On March 1, it started allowing people to use the cheaper smokable option, and on Aug. 1 patients will be able to use gummies and edibles.