Licensing for new cannabis bill to include social equity measures

Minnesota Capitol during the Springtime
Minnesota Capitol during the Springtime(Quinn Gorham)
Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 5:51 PM CDT
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St. Paul, MINN. (GRAY) - Minnesota is several weeks away from the beginning of the legalization process for recreational cannabis. The bill, which passed through the state legislature and was signed into law by Governor Walz last week, does more than just legalize possession; it also contains provisions designed to benefit communities that have been hurt by prohibition.

“If you are from a community that’s been historically harmed from the over-policing of cannabis, which are based on census tracts, there will be a place you will be able to look it up on the website to see if you qualify in that way,” said Senator Lindsey Port (DFL - Burnsville).

The program aims to balance out any past harm that may have been done to certain communities by giving them a special application to obtain licensing. Anyone in the state can still apply for licensing, but the social equity application presumably allows those with past marijuana convictions, those living in underprivileged communities, and even disabled veterans a special avenue to take part in the state’s very first cannabis sales.

“You’ll kind of be first in line, that’s really where we want to get those set up so that we have an opportunity to really grow a different kind of industry here in Minnesota,” Port said.

The policy proved popular among the DFL. Port says it’s a way of balancing out years of harm.

“White Minnesotans and Black Minnesotans use cannabis at roughly the same rate, yet a Black Minnesotan is around five times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted,” she said.

Republicans like Representative Nolan West (R - Blaine), who voted for the bill, feel it puts others at a bit of a disadvantage.

“In statute, it says 20% of the points you get, which determine whether you get a license, are determined based on where you’re from,” West said.

West said he understands the argument that underprivileged communities need to be a part of the new law, but he believes there’s other ways to do that.

“To me, that’s what the expungement part of the bill is about,” he said.

Still, West believes it’s mostly a good bill.

“When you look at something that’s not dangerous, and people already have access to it, prohibiting it just doesn’t make any sense anymore,” he said, “I think I would lean towards [it being] a slight positive.”

Port not only believes it’s a good bill but one of the best in the nation.

“[The People of Color and Indigenous Caucus] was so clear on the work that we needed to do there. And it helped us I think, draft one of the strongest bills, if not the strongest bill in the country,” Port said.

The licensing process will begin once appointments are made in the new Office of Cannabis Management.

Port estimates it’ll be 12-18 months before the first dispensaries begin popping up.