The governor of Minnesota says that Republican lawmakers are spreading “misinformation” about the state’s newly enacted marijuana legalization law—and while he believes the policy will continue to be tweaked over time, he will not be convening an urgent special session as GOP members have requested.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked about concerns with the cannabis law that Republicans have laid out in a pair of letters that they sent to him and Democratic leadership over the last couple weeks. Specifically, the lawmakers have focused on rules for underage possession of marijuana.
As one reporter pointed out, it was the intent of the sponsors to remove criminal penalties for youth possession, but the violation itself remained on the books, so people under 21 could theoretically be charged with a default petty misdemeanor if they unlawfully have marijuana. Walz said “it didn’t get into the law, and it’s not the one we signed, so the intent of the authors will always be there, [but] the interpretation and the the operationalizing this will be with our agencies, and there is no intention of of taking that away from minors. It’s simply illegal.”
He also emphasized that, like the state’s century-plus-old alcohol laws, the cannabis program will likely continue to be tweaked over time.
“Like any piece of legislation, will there be things that will be changed? My god, we’re changing the alcohol laws 120 years after the fact,” he said. “We’re still debating on upgrading and modernizing on that.”
“So the fact of the matter is, this idea of putting out false information—you can certainly debate the merits, we can certainly come back and take a look at this—but this was a thoughtful piece of legislation,” Walz said. “It is not legal for minors to use cannabis in the state of Minnesota. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now and it won’t be in the future. It’s as simple as that.”
He responded that the law makes it so “individual and local jurisdictions could make decisions” to ban publicly smoking marijuana, just like open containers of alcohol on the streets are prohibited. The state law itself doesn’t prevent people from consuming in public spaces, however.
He again reiterated that he “absolutely” believes the marijuana law will be revised by the legislature, which he said is “the right way to approach this.”
“I think that you should have an expectation there’ll be tweaks. Every other state that’s done that has gone through those same permutations,” he said. “The fact remains this is, prohibition did not work. It was punishing groups, specifically racially punishing certain groups. We were not seeing any decline in the usage of this.”
Minnesota’s marijuana legalization law took effect last week, making it so adults 21 and older can possess and cultivate cannabis. And the first tribally owned marijuana shops also opened ahead of traditional licensees.
State-licensed retailers aren’t expected to come online until 2024 at earliest. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said last week that he wants to get in on the action, too, and become the “first major politician in America” to have his face on a marijuana brand.
The law also formally created the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which launched last month. It will be the primary regulatory body that will oversee the market and for which the governor is actively seeking an executive director.
Another body that has been instituted is the Cannabis Expungement Board, which will facilitate record sealing for people with eligible marijuana convictions on their records. The review process for eligible cases commenced last week.
Even before Walz signed the reform bill, the state launched a website that serves as a hub for information about the new law. Officials have also already started soliciting vendors to help build a licensing system for recreational marijuana businesses.
A separate Minnesota law also took effect last week that legalizes drug paraphernalia possession, syringe services, controlled substances residue and testing.