Minnesota is just one Senate vote and a governor's signature away from legalizing recreational marijuana for adults.
The DFL-controlled House voted 73-57 to legalize marijuana on Thursday night. The Senate could take up the bill as early as Friday. Pending Senate approval, the bill will head to the desk of Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who's pledged to sign it.
"The day has finally arrived. Today is the day that we are going to vote here in the House for the last time to legalize cannabis and bring the change that many Minnesotans have wanted for a very long time," said state Rep. Zack Stephenson, a Coon Rapids Democrat who sponsored the bill.
The bill allows Minnesotans 21 and older to buy up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower, 8 grams of concentrate and 800 milligrams worth of edible products at a time, and possess those amounts while in public.
Adults would also be allowed to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home, though no more than four could be mature and flowering at a time.
Minnesota would become the 23rd state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana if the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by Walz. But Minnesota would be only the 11th state to allow home-growing, Stephenson said.
Legislative negotiators finalized the marijuana legalization bill earlier this week. They set the tax rate for cannabis products at 10%, capped home possession of marijuana flower at 2 pounds and gave cities the option of limiting the number of cannabis retailers within their limits.
Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, said he was happy that cities were given the power to limit the number of cannabis retailers. He also praised Stephenson for including Republicans on the conference committee that finalized the marijuana bill.
"While it's not the perfect bill, it is much better than when it [first] left the House," said West, who voted for the measure.
Much Republican opposition remained, however. GOP lawmakers cited worries about possible upticks in impaired driving and teen marijuana use.
Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, took issue with the provision allowing people to possess 2 pounds of marijuana flower in their homes. Most states that have legalized recreational marijuana have at-home possession limits that are much lower, making Minnesota's proposed 2-pound limit an outlier.
"Folks, that's 2,724 joints. That is going to get in the hands of the kids," said Backer, who voted against the measure. "If we do not protect our next generation, kids, then why are we here?"
If legalized, it could take a year or longer until the first retail dispensary opens. The bill creates a new state agency, the Office of Cannabis Management, to oversee licensing of recreational and medical marijuana and hemp-derived products.
Stephenson said the state would begin setting up that agency later this year. But some aspects of the bill would take effect sooner.
Marijuana possession would be decriminalized and home-growing would become legal on Aug. 1, Stephenson said. The state would also start working in August to expunge past marijuana convictions from Minnesotans' records.
The bill would automatically clear misdemeanor marijuana convictions and establish a committee to consider expungement of felony-level cannabis crimes. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension sent a letter to lawmakers last week explaining that it could take the agency up to a year to expunge all of the misdemeanor records.
"Think about how many people are trying to get housing, get jobs, who have a record, and this is directly impacting their ability to be contributing members to our society," said state Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul. "We're going to expunge those records, because the war on drugs was wrong and we made a mistake. And now, we're going to right that mistake."