Senator Melisa Franzen: Why I introduced the recreational cannabis legalization bill

Earlier this session, I introduced SF 619, a bipartisan bill that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults at least 21 years old.

This legislation will further decriminalize and regulate cannabis use in Minnesota. The bill will primarily focus on the regulatory framework to provide for responsible oversight of recreational use of cannabis.

In 2013, when medical cannabis became law, policymakers and members of the public participated in a month-long conversation about the merits of legalization of medical cannabis. While emotions ran high, a bipartisan consensus created a carefully regulated system with safeguards to prevent abuse. As more states legalize cannabis for recreational use, most recently our Midwest neighbor Michigan, Minnesota has thus far been reluctant to engage in the kind of serious conversations that happened five years ago, until now. SF 619 is receiving its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, and I welcome a respectful debate to address the public’s concerns and the challenges to implementation.

Many have asked why I am carrying this bill. I answer because it is time to have this conversation in Minnesota. Rarely as a Legislature do you have the ability to have a win-win scenario, to tax product where the consumers agree should be taxed and regulate it to make it safer for consumers. We also have the ability to remove the need for the black market to exist, while eliminating the harm it has done to society with an expungement provision.

I believe the state has both a public health and safety interest in regulating and educating Minnesotans on the risks of the recreational use of cannabis. Prohibition has not worked thus far. Regulating cannabis and providing the necessary oversight and legal framework moving forward will reduce not increase its access to youth. Dr. Scott Jensen, my Republican co-author of this bill in the Senate and a physician in private practice, acknowledged that cannabis may become legal, but it does not mean it’s good for you. SF 619 seeks to responsibly regulate and address all aspects of cannabis use by:

• Prohibiting the use and sale to minors under 21

• Uphold current law prohibiting impaired driving

• Uphold the Clean Indoor Air Act

• Protect employer rights to keep the workplace safe

• Protect landlord rights to prevent smoking on their property

• Keep local control to regulate the production and sale in local communities

• Establish rules on the operation of dispensaries

• Develop a tracking system, “seed-to-sale”

• Distribute revenue to mental health services, training for police, and public health education for teens about the potential health consequences of cannabis use

• Fund research on mental health impact and risk factors for addiction

• Study effects of cannabis related to potency levels and dosage for safe driving

• Decriminalize and expunge past non-violent offenses

I want to encourage respectful dialogue as we continue to discuss the merits of legalizing the adult recreational use of cannabis.

This column was first published in the Sun Current.

Senator Franzen
Melisa Franzen represents District 49 in the southwest Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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