In a historic move, Minnesota has become the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana. As of Tuesday, August 1, 2023, adults aged 21 and older in Minnesota can legally possess and grow cannabis for personal recreational use. The legalization came after the Democratic-controlled Minnesota Legislature approved a comprehensive legalization bill, which was subsequently signed into law by Governor Tim Walz in May.
The new law permits individuals to possess and transport up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower, 8 grams of concentrate, and 800 milligrams of THC-containing edible products such as gummies and seltzers while in the state. Additionally, adults can have up to 2 pounds of cannabis flower stored at home. Low-potency edibles made with THC from industrial hemp were already legalized last year, but they have been subject to a 10 percent marijuana tax since July 1.
Retail sales of recreational marijuana will not commence immediately, as the state aims to set up a comprehensive licensing and regulatory system for the new cannabis industry. While the Red Lake Nation has announced plans to start selling recreational marijuana at its existing medical cannabis dispensary from August 1, retail sales in most areas are expected to begin in early 2025.
Minnesota's legalization initiative sparked debates between critics concerned about potential impacts on public safety and young people, and supporters who argued that the prohibition of marijuana had proven ineffective. Proponents of the law highlighted the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests and the lasting consequences faced by people of color in terms of employment and housing.
As part of the legalization effort, Minnesota is prioritizing social equity considerations for awarding licenses to cannabis-related businesses. This includes applicants from low-income areas disproportionately affected by marijuana's illegal status, individuals with expunged convictions, and military veterans whose honorable status was affected by marijuana-related offenses.
Under the new law, adults in Minnesota are permitted to cultivate up to eight cannabis plants at home, with no more than four plants flowering at any given time. The plants must be grown in enclosed and locked spaces, whether indoors or in a garden. Retailers will also be allowed to sell marijuana seeds, provided they adhere to labeling and other requirements set by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Cannabis consumption is allowed on private property, including private homes, and will eventually be permitted at special events with proper permits. However, smoking or vaping cannabis remains illegal in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited, such as most businesses, apartment buildings, and college campuses. Smoking cannabis on a public sidewalk may also be subject to local ordinances.
It is crucial to note that despite state legalization, federal law still prohibits cannabis consumers from owning firearms or ammunition. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives considers “current users” of marijuana as “unlawful users” for federal purposes, making it illegal for them to possess guns.
The new law also addresses expungement of minor marijuana convictions, with an automatic expungement process beginning in August. More than 60,000 Minnesotans with small-scale marijuana convictions stand to benefit from this measure, although the expungement process may take up to a year to clear everyone's records. A special Cannabis Expungement Board will be established to review felony convictions and determine eligibility case by case.
The Office of Cannabis Management will oversee Minnesota's cannabis industry and is currently listing job positions, with applications for the office's first executive director open until July 31. The office will also take charge of Minnesota's existing medical marijuana program, which will remain untaxed.
While tribal governments will have the authority to set their own rules, Minnesota has taken a significant step towards ensuring cannabis access and regulation for adult residents. The move represents a crucial milestone in the ongoing nationwide trend towards marijuana legalization, more than a decade after Colorado and Washington paved the way for recreational use.