After an hour and a half hearing Thursday, a bill that would legalize the use of recreational marijuana passed a Minnesota House Commerce Finance and Policy Subcommittee.
“There being 10 ayes and seven nays, House File 600 is recommended to be referred to the Committee on Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy,” chairman of the subcommittee state Rep. Zach Stephenson (DFL-MN-36A) said after the roll call at the end of the online hearing.
HF 600 provides for “establishing the Cannabis Management Board; establishing advisory councils; requiring reports relating to cannabis use and sales; legalizing and limiting the possession and use of cannabis by adults,” along with regulations surrounding licensure and inspection of establishments that would sell marijuana for recreational use.
The passage through the Commerce Finance and Policy Subcommittee is the first step towards the bill, which has 35 co-sponsors, heading to the Minnesota House floor.
Four non-committee members testified at the hearing, including Leili Fetahi, campaign manager for Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR), who testified in favor of the bill.
“MRMR is a statewide, multi-partisan campaign, organized by leaders from state and local units of government, a broad range of nonprofit organizations, members of Minnesota’s business community, organized labor, and more,” she said. “We formed MRMR with the goal of not just legalizing cannabis in Minnesota, but rather replacing and repairing the damage caused by the complete and utter failure that is cannabis prohibition, with a well-regulated and inclusive cannabis industry that promotes consumer safety, creates diverse economic opportunities and jobs for Minnesotans across the state, and invests resources back into our communities – especially those that have been most disproportionately harmed by racist policies of prohibition and the war on drugs.”
Fetahi’s said that marijuana prohibition has failed in every one of its policy goals, including stopping the sale of the drug, as well as protecting consumers, especially children.
On the opposing side, Ryan Hamilton, the government relations associate for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, spoke out against the bill.
“Pope Francis has given us some great guidance on this issue,” Hamilton said. “In 2013 he said quote, ‘drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there is no compromise.'”
“So, House File 600 is a bad bill,” he continued. “It’s a bad bill for adolescents. It’s bad for our brothers and sisters with substance abuse problems, it’s bad for those who use our highways, and it’s bad for the common good.”
Citing a Colorado Department of Public Health report, Hamilton said that “smoking and vaping are the most common forms of cannabis consumption,” and argued that the legislature should not enact a new bill that would promote smoking during a “respiratory pandemic,” referencing COVID-19. Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
“This is an attempt to create another ‘big tobacco,'” he said. “Don’t take my word for it, look at the outcomes in the other states that have gone down this path. For example, a recent study from California – a study of seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders – found significant increases in use [of marijuana] among all demographics.”
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