The following is a copy of an article I wrote for Sensible Change Minnesota, an organization I sit on the Board of Directors for. You can view it in it’s original form here
On Monday, May 20th, the Minnesota 2019 legislative session came to a close. Over the past few months, thousands of bills were introduced, some of which were sensible drug policy reforms that had the potential to positively impact our communities. Sensible Change Minnesota and you, our supporters, have spent countless hours on the ground at Saint Paul, talking to legislators, building support, and sharing information to get some of these passed. While the legislature was not able to reach a consensus on all of our legislative priorities this year, there are victories to celebrate, and work left to do.
- Our flagship legislative priority is our #PatientsFirst initiative, which aims to increase the affordability and accessibility of medical cannabis for patients in our state. With Minnesota having one of the most expensive medical cannabis programs in the nation, our team researched programs in other states and determined that removing restrictions preventing patients from vaporizing raw cannabis flower would be the easiest way to reduce costs in the near-term. Pennsylvania, which originally modeled it’s medical cannabis program on Minnesota’s, implemented this change in 2018, and saw the price of medical cannabis decrease in it’s state by over 50%. Additionally, provisions removing arbitrary qualification language for patients with cancer and terminal illness, as well as a provision adding chronic pain and opiate replacement were offered by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake). Further, a provision that would have moved “marijuana” from Schedule I to Schedule II in the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act was offered by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington). These provisions were all included in the House HHS omnibus bill, but removed in Conference Committee negotiations, where the Republican Senate Caucus leadership blocked the provisions.
- A number of reforms to the medical cannabis program were passed, including:
- Allowing Minnesota’s two medical cannabis manufacturers, Minnesota Medical Solutions and Leafline Labs, to deduct business expenses, lowering their tax liability.
- Allowing Minnesota’s two medical cannabis manufacturers to each open 4 additional retail locations (dispensaries) throughout the state.
- Permitting the two in-state medical cannabis manufacturers to sell medical cannabis to each other.
- Allowing Minnesota’s hemp farmers to sell hemp and hemp-derived CBD directly to the two medical cannabis manufacturers.
- Fixing the patient-caregiver loophole, which prevented registered patients from also serving as a caregiver, allowing patients with loved ones who are also on the program to obtain medical cannabis on their behalf.
- Made it easier for patients to get a caregiver by lowering the minimum age of a caregiver from 21 to 18, and changing language that the patient “is unable” to self administer or obtain medical cannabis to language that the patient “requires assistance” in administering or obtaining medical cannabis.
- Allowing spouses to serve as caregivers without the need for registration as a designated caregiver.
- The medical cannabis task force, a group that meets at least annually to review and evaluate Minnesota’s medical cannabis program, was given authority to submit petitions to the Minnesota Department of Health to add new qualifying conditions and delivery methods to the program.
- The Commissioner of Health was given the authority to modify qualifying conditions.
Adult Use Legalization
- Senators Melisa Franzen (D-Edina) and Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) introduced bipartisan legislation, S.F. 619, to legalize cannabis for adults over 21. This bill was given a committee hearing that included 30 minutes of public testimony for and against legalization, as well as a 60 minute presentation from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Task Force Area, a federally funded law enforcement group working to prevent cannabis legalization throughout the United States. This bill was killed in committee along partisan lines by a 6-3 vote.
- Proposals to create a task force responsible for studying the experiences of other legal states, recommend to the legislature if Minnesota should legalize cannabis, and if so, how so, made its way to the House Public Safety omnibus bill, but did not survive conference committee negotiations.
- Legislation that would have lowered the criminal penalties associated with cannabis flower possession and sales, defelonizing possession of under 200 grams and sale of under 42.5 grams made its way to the House Public Safety omnibus bill, but did not survive conference committee negotiations.
Adulterant Screening (Drug Checking) Decriminalization
- Our proposal to remove adulterant screening supplies (e.g. fentanyl test strips) from the definition of drug paraphernalia was included in the House Public Safety omnibus bill, but did not survive conference committee negotiations.
- The Opioid Stewardship (formerly known as “Penny a Pill”) bill, requires pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to pay a registration fee based on the volume of opiate drugs they sell in Minnesota to help fund opioid use disorder treatment services, child protection, and other expenses related to the opiate epidemic passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming support and was signed into law by the Governor on May 22, 2019.
Even though the legislative session is now over, the work has just begun. We are already beginning plans to move our sensible changes forward in the 2020 legislative session. We can’t do it without your help:
Contact your representatives!
If there is legislation you’d like to see passed in 2020, contact your representatives and make your voice heard. Find who represents you and their contact information here.
Host or attend a house party
Our supporters are throwing house parties throughout the state this summer. House parties help get your friends, family, and neighbors engaged in building sensible policies, to help sustain our organization, and to help us have lobbyists at the capital next year advocating for our shared priorities next year. Click here to learn more. Can’t host or attend? Make a donation and help fund our work here.
Get connected with us
We welcome allies who incorporate our priorities into their policy proposals and hope to have a seat at the table as Minnesota moves away from current punitive policies. Sensible Change Minnesota believes Minnesotans are responsible enough to make good decisions for themselves and we look forward forming partnerships to bring this initiative to life.
It is our sincere hope that we can make many, if not all, of these initiatives a reality, but it won’t be easy. We’re seeking volunteers to help us with graphic design, public relations, and coalition building. If you’re interested in volunteering, please email [email protected] with a brief statement of interest and a resume or CV.