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Key negotiators expected to soon wrap up deal to legalize marijuana in Minnesota

Committees work to reconcile Minnesota's legal cannabis bill
Committees work to reconcile Minnesota's legal cannabis bill 02:04

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Lawmakers working out a deal to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older expect to wrap up their work Tuesday, striking agreement on key differences between the House and Senate's proposals.

On Monday, lead negotiators signed off on a couple of changes as the legislature nears adjournment for the year. The latest agreement allows at-home possession of up to two pounds, which is a middle ground between the House's proposal of 1.5 pounds and the Senate's much higher cap at five pounds.

The panel of House and Senate lawmakers heard several amendments, including one that would allow local governments to limit the retail dispensaries to one for every 12,500 residents and prohibit them within 500 feet of day cares, schools, and public parks. Cities and counties could not outright ban the businesses from operating.

The House had no such limits and the Senate's plan was more restrictive.

"We found a comfortable middle ground that maybe isn't anyone's first choice, but that hopefully everyone can live with on the issue," Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said.

Last week, the conference committee approved several parts of the bill and Tuesday it plans to finalize the deal, including how much cannabis products will be taxed and where those revenues will go, which will tee up the agreement for another vote in both chambers.

The House pitched an additional 8% gross receipts tax on all cannabis products and the Senate had 10% in its bill. Stephenson confirmed to WCCO that the Senate's rate will be the final number, which would still put Minnesota on the lower-end of the scale when it comes to cannabis taxes in other states, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation.

Lawmakers also increased the plant canopy a small cannabis business can grow and cultivate, and agreed upon language Monday will also allow medical cannabis businesses to grow, process and manufacture marijuana products for recreational use. There are limits elsewhere on vertical integration.

Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, said the local control provisions are an improvement, but he worried that existing low-dose hemp edibles with THC—the compound that produce the same high as marijuana—will not have the same rules apply.

"One of the concerns that I have with the low potency licensing is that it's really going to expose a whole new set of consumers to cannabis products who aren't necessarily seeking it out," he said. "We can imagine that at all the convenience stores, grocery stores, bars, restaurants."

Additional language added cannabis products—from marijuana to hemp-derived edibles—to the list of substances subject to DWI penalties if a person is driving while high.

Starting this summer under the bill, Minnesotans would be allowed to have cannabis for personal use without any criminal penalties under the limits lawmakers signed off on.

Rasmusson sought an amendment to delay implementation of that part of the bill because setting up the regulatory framework for legal businesses will take at least a year. It failed to pass.

"This will help law enforcement be able to really make sure there isn't an illicit market that fills this vacuum in between the period of this bill passing and licenses being issued," he said.

Recent polling shows 64% of Minnesotans want marijuana to be legal.

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