Photo from MN NORML

Representative Ryan Winkler joined legalization advocates Wednesday morning for a virtual discussion on H.F. 4632, a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis. If passed, the House Majority Leader’s bill (with 33 co-authors) would extend the right to possess and grow a limited amount of cannabis to adults age 21 and older. It would also establish a regulatory framework to create a craft-focused legal market for the cultivation, processing, and sale of cannabis. 

Representative Winkler began the community forum by connecting the effort to reform cannabis laws to the recent murder of George Floyd by police officers. “With the killing that happened in Minneapolis and the protests, we are once again looking at the fundamental failure of our criminal justice system to provide justice in far too many cases,” Rep. Winkler said. While talking to DFL House members from throughout the state, the main reason legislators wanted to reform existing cannabis laws was to “end the criminalization of people’s lives and the deep racial injustice that are part of that system,” Rep. Winkler’s said, “Obviously, this is not going to solve a lot of problems [around racial injustice], but it does address some.”

“We were set to go really at the beginning of the legislative session,” the Majority Leader explained when talking about where the future of this legislation. “COVID-19 shifted all of our priorities fundamentally and basically took over the legislative session. We did almost nothing that wasn’t COVID-related or that we were sure could become law. With the Republican Senate, we knew that there was no path for this bill.” Rep. Winkler said that Minnesota is “hopefully one election away from full legalization.” 

Photo of the virtual discussion which at one point had over 30 in attendance

The recent vote in the Minnesota House to add raw cannabis to the medical program was a preview into the vote that we may see next session. The measure, which was ultimately rejected by Senate leadership, received a vote in favor from all but one Democrat along with multiple Republican members of the House. “That kind of broad support was done with the opposition of the Republican leaders,” explained Winkler, “six of [the Republican representatives] voted with us anyways.” Rep. Winkler said those votes were “a strong sign of hope that if we can get different leaders in the Senate, we could actually do this.”

When discussing the legislation itself, Rep. Winkler stressed that this was not an “economic or revenue opportunity,” but instead “a necessary change to a broken system that is hurting people.” Winkler concluded by saying “It’s time that we make that change because of the harm that the current prohibition law is doing.”

“We want to balance personal use versus making sure the illicit marketplace doesn’t continue. Our goal is not to create a huge industry and make a bunch of money for the state. Our goal is to transition an illicit marketplace into a legal, regulated marketplace.” 

Rep. Ryan Winkler

When asked if there was opposition within the DFL caucus, Winkler explained that the party was pretty unanimous in reforming state cannabis laws. “So far we’ve not heard any pushback. That’s partly because we involved people who were skeptics and supporters in developing the policy from the beginning.” Representative Ginny Klevorn (DFL-44A) explained that not all proponents of the legislation are vocal about their support or wanting to make legalization a major campaign issue this November, especially in districts that could potentially switch party control.

Other topics discussed by Representative Winkler included what local control might look like, why social equity is so important to include with legalization, and what the odds are that the legal age be changed to 19 (“0 chance”). Winkler even joked with organizers about the name of the daily video sessions, Wake and Bake, stating that the name “has nothing to do with muffins of scones, I guess. ” A full video of the full discussion can be found here.

“The Wake and Bake Crew are a community of supporters helping to organize around legalization,” explained Michael Ford, Executive Director of Minnesota NOMRL, “We go live each morning from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m..” Ford continued, “it’s more about building relationships with the community.” Those looking to join the Wake and Bake sessions should check out the Minnesota Marijuana Facebook page, or click this Zoom link to connect.