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Minnesota Senate sends bill to legalize marijuana to Gov. Tim Walz's desk

Minnesota Senate passes bill to legalize recreational cannabis
Minnesota Senate passes bill to legalize recreational cannabis 00:57

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Senate early Saturday approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, sending it to Gov. Tim Walz's desk for signature and marking a historic step that will transform the state's drug policy. 

Recreational marijuana will be legal as early as August 1. Then over the next year, a new state Office of Cannabis Management will ramp up, tasked with implementing the new rules and regulations to shift an illicit market into state-licensed businesses throughout the state. 

The sweeping 300-page bill will also automatically expunge low-level cannabis convictions and set up a board to consider expungement or resentencing of felony crimes. The move means Minnesota is set to join 22 states plus Washington, D.C., that have legalized weed. 

"We can get rid of the illicit market and one of the strongest tools we have to do that is to not allow for areas of prohibition to continue to exist in our state," said bill author Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, wearing a green blazer to commemorate the vote. "The war on drugs has had devastating harmful effects on our communities."

MORE: Minnesota will soon legalize recreational marijuana: Here's what the new law will do

The Senate on a party-line gave the ok after 1:15 a.m. Saturday. The House signed off on it late Thursday night with five Republicans joining all by one Democrat in voting yes.

That chamber had previously passed the legislation in recent years, but it hit a roadblock in a Republican-led Senate. The bill's fortunes changed when Democrats took back control this year and the bill is the culmination of 30 committees in both chambers, hours of testimony and dozens of changes. 

RELATED: What's all rolled up into the final Minnesota recreational marijuana bill?

When newly regulated businesses are operational, they will be authorized for cultivation, manufacturing and lawful sale of cannabis products, depending on what licenses they're approved for.  There will be a 10% gross receipts tax on the products, on top of existing local and state general sales taxes. 

House bill sponsor DFL Rep. Zack Stephenson of Coon Rapids expects it to be at least 12 months to 18 months before a person would be able to walk into an adult-use, retail dispensary and buy something.

But adults can possess up to two pounds of weed and have two ounces on them while out and about starting this summer. They can also grow a few home plants. But having any more than those limits -- or selling it without a state license -- could mean criminal penalties and big civil fines.

The gap between legalization and regulation concerns Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, who sat on the conference committee panel that worked through a compromise on the House and Senate versions of the bill.

What legal recreational marijuana will look like Minnesota 02:55

"In that time, when I talk to members of the law enforcement community, they're concerned that they will have a black market fill that void and it will be even more challenging to get it under control, even when the legal licenses are issued," he said.

He also notes there is not a reliable roadside test—similar to a breathalyzer with alcohol–to determine if someone is under the influence of marijuana while driving, which is a DWI offense under the legislation. 

The bill establishes a pilot project to study the efficacy of some tests and provides money for drug recognition for law enforcement. 

This summer, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will begin the process of clearing people's records if they were charged or convicted of non-felony offenses related to marijuana. 

Port acknowledged that there will likely be work in the future to improve this system after the bill passes

"It's been 100 years since we've had liquor prohibition, and we still have liquor bills here," Port said."It's a changing industry. We're going to have fixes." 

The bill does not allow for smoking marijuana in public places. It only permits adult use someone's personal residence, private property where the owner has granted permission, and a place licensed for on-site consumption. 

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