Minnesota’s governor is setting the stage for marijuana legalization in 2020.

While it’s not clear what a legal cannabis program would look like in the state, as legislators are actively considering several options, Gov. Tim Walz (D) told Minnesota Public Radio that he’s directed state agencies to prepare for implementation in any event.

“My agencies have been tasked to put all of the building blocks in place, from Revenue to the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health,” he said. “We will have everything ready to go, and we will be able to implement it in Minnesota the minute the Legislature moves this.”

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), who recently wrote an editorial for Star Tribune advocating for marijuana reform, said that he will be sponsoring legalization legislation next year.

“We need to be serious about this issue,” he wrote. “In this year’s legislative session, Republicans in the Minnesota Senate blocked a DFL House proposal to create a task force to study legalization. This would have been a sensible way to address the many issues associated with our current cannabis prohibition and legalization for adult use.”

But even with the support of the governor and House leadership, any attempt to pass legalization legislation will face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. In March, a legalization bill was defeated in a Senate committee, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) said that the proposal is “not good for Minnesota.”

“It’s dead as far as I’m concerned in the Senate for next year,” he said. “We’ve gone through the due diligence and the process to listen to the issue. There were just a lot of negative issues around recreational marijuana.”

Before Winkler introduces a legalization bill, he will be leading a listening tour to hear from Minnesotans about the proposal.

“I think most of us who have looked at the issue think that legalization is the path we have to take,” he said. “But I don’t want to prejudge that until we’ve had that conversation with Minnesotans.”

Efforts to legalize are also being bolstered by advocates with Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation. Leili Fatehi, the group’s campaign manager, told Marijuana Moment that they recently had a conversation with the governor about his legalization strategy.

“We had a direct conversation with the governor last week where he made it clear he wants to act on legalization and has instructed all applicable departments to have answers prepared before the start of the 2020 legislative session about the different regulatory dimensions of legalization (taxation, licensing, public safety, etc.),” Fatehi said.

“Having the executive branch approach this head-on will build trust at all levels, including with the public and with policymakers who need to act,” Fatehi said, adding that the group also met with Winkler to discuss the issue.

“We left the meeting feeling that we will have a strong role to play in informing issue spotting and evaluating the policy response from both the executive and legislative branches prior to the start of the 2020 legislative session,” Fatehi said.

Advocates hoped that a bill to create a governor’s task force to consider regulatory issues related to a legal marijuana system would pass this year, but that legislation died in the Senate after being approved by two House committees in February. Because that bill failed, organizers are “especially excited about this move” from the governor directing agencies to prepare for legalization.

While the governor’s directive to state agencies will help set the stage for a legal marijuana system, efforts to develop an effective regulatory model could also be bolstered by a bill that would create a governor’s task force to consider issues such as taxation and licensing. That legislation was approved in two House committees in February.

Cannabis for Economic Growth, a political committee chaired by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party’s former executive director, Corey Day, is also angling for legalization and is emphasizing the economic potential of a regulated cannabis market.

“Our goal is to talk about the economy of it all,” Day said. “Taxation, revenue, entrepreneurship, how this new economy is going to help the state.”

Even Smart Approaches To Marijuana’s Minnesota branch seems to regard legalization as an inevitability, though it is cautioning against moving too fast.

“Part of our position is maybe this will happen, but let’s find a state that’s going to do this right, then figure it out from there, rather than plow new ground here,” Judson Bemis, the chapter’s chair, told MPR. “We don’t have to be the 12th state. Maybe we could be the 42nd state.”

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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