While opposition to recreational marijuana legalization by Minnesota Senate Republicans seems to have taken the issue off the table for the 2021 session, a bill introduced by legalization backers is more than a place-saver for a more-receptive future.
The 179-page bill, HF 600, reflects the state-of-play for current legalization efforts around the U.S., showing how the issue has moved from legalization, regulation and taxation to broader attempts to remedy what backers say are the ill-effects of decades of cannabis prohibition. “Equity” is the theme; the word appears in the text of the bill 41 times.
Among other things, the measure would create an Office of Social Equity within a new Cannabis Management Board, one whose members must be “a person with experience in promoting social equity.” The bill would also give preferences for licenses to “social equity applicants,” and would provide grants to help those who might lack access to loans and investors to start cannabis-related businesses.
It would also devote some of the tax revenue to community development grants in places with high percentages of residents who would qualify under the social equity applicant standards. (According to the bill, social equity applicants are veterans who lost their honorable discharge status because of a cannabis-relation offense and are also residents of a census tract with high poverty rates or lower median family income, a definition is similar to that used to establish federal Opportunity Zones.)
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The bill doesn’t mention race, but sponsors say that by concentrating on areas with high poverty, they will capture a lot of people of color, especially African Americans, who have borne the brunt of marijuana arrests and convictions in the past.
Sen. Melisa López Franzen
Sen. Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said