Minnesota Advances Cannabis Industry with New Legislation

Minnesota Advances Cannabis Industry with New Legislation

Saint Paul, MN — Minnesota has enacted significant changes to its cannabis laws, aiming to expedite the launch of the state’s cannabis industry. Key among these changes is the acceleration of business operations for social equity applicants, who can now start growing cannabis by the end of this year, ahead of the 2025 retail sales launch.

Governor Tim Walz signed the bill on May 24, 2024. The new legislation incorporates many recommendations from the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to strengthen social equity, streamline the application and licensing process, and enhance protections for medical cannabis patients.

Key Legislative Changes:
Social Equity Focus: The law enhances social equity provisions, lowering ownership requirements from 100% to 65% to enable better access to capital and partnerships. A new social equity license classification and a well-vetted lottery system ensure fairness in the licensing process.

Preapproved Licensing for Early Movers: Social equity applicants can benefit from a preapproval licensing process, allowing them to establish operations early and be ready for market launch.
Streamlined Application Process: The application process no longer requires securing a physical location beforehand, reducing financial risk. The system also consolidates license types and introduces medical endorsements for existing licenses to maintain benefits for medical cannabis patients.

Accelerated Oversight of Hemp-Derived Products: Responsibility for regulating hemp-derived cannabinoid products will transfer to OCM on July 1, 2024, providing clarity and consistency for the industry.
Enhanced Patient Protections: The transition of the Office of Medical Cannabis to OCM has been moved up to July 1, 2024, to ensure continuity and protect patient access. Changes include adjusted patient supply limits and the ability for caregivers to grow up to eight plants for a registered patient.

Consumer Safety Measures: OCM now has the authority to issue product recalls, enforce packaging and labeling requirements, and prevent the sale of empty packaging, ensuring consistent safety standards.
OCM Interim Director Charlene Briner emphasized that the focus will be on meeting the accelerated timeline to launch Minnesota’s new cannabis industry, ensuring access to safe, reliable products for both adult consumers and medical patients.

For more details, you can review the 2024 Legislative Changes to Chapter 342 here.

About the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM)
Established in 2023 following the enactment of HF 100, OCM is responsible for developing and implementing regulatory systems for Minnesota’s cannabis industry. The agency’s recommendations have been instrumental in shaping the latest legislative changes, which aim to create a sustainable and equitable cannabis market in the state.

Summary of Additional Key Changes:
Market Launch Support: Early mover advantages for social equity applicants through a preapproval process.
Application Process Improvement: Clarified steps for applications and reduced potential delays and financial burdens.
Consolidation of License Types: Simplified system with medical endorsements for existing licenses.
Accelerated Enforcement Transition: Earlier oversight of hemp-derived products to ensure regulatory consistency.

Justice Department Takes Historic Step to Reclassify Marijuana

Justice Department Takes Historic Step to Reclassify Marijuana

In a significant development, the Justice Department announced on Thursday a formal move to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. This marks a historic shift in U.S. drug policy that has spanned generations.

The proposed rule, now sent to the federal register, acknowledges the medical benefits of cannabis and highlights its lower potential for abuse compared to some of the nation’s most dangerous substances. However, it does not legalize marijuana for recreational use. This change, approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, initiates a process where the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will open the proposal for public comment.

If the proposal is accepted, marijuana will be reclassified from a Schedule I drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD, to a Schedule III substance, aligning it with drugs like ketamine and some anabolic steroids. This move follows a recommendation from the federal Health and Human Services Department, which conducted a review prompted by President Joe Biden in 2022.

President Biden has also pardoned thousands of individuals convicted federally for simple marijuana possession and has urged local leaders to do the same. In a video statement, Biden emphasized the importance of this move in correcting long-standing injustices related to marijuana criminalization. “Far too many lives have been upended because of a failed approach to marijuana, and I’m committed to righting those wrongs,” he stated.

The announcement comes at a critical time, potentially bolstering support for Biden among younger voters as the election approaches. The reclassification process involves a 60-day comment period followed by a possible administrative review, which could extend the timeline.

Support for marijuana policy reform is growing across both major political parties, reflecting its increasing acceptance and decriminalization in many states. However, some argue that the reclassification doesn’t go far enough and advocate for marijuana to be treated similarly to alcohol.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the move and called for further steps toward legalization. The U.S. Cannabis Council described the shift as a significant departure from the failed policies of the past 50 years.

The Justice Department’s decision is based on available data from HHS, which indicates that marijuana’s abuse potential aligns more closely with other Schedule III substances. While the DEA has yet to make its final determination, it will consider public input during the rulemaking process.

Critics, however, argue against rescheduling. Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser, expressed concerns that the decision is driven by politics rather than science, highlighting the lack of sufficient data to support the move to Schedule III.

The immediate impact of this reclassification on the criminal justice system is expected to be limited, as federal prosecutions for simple possession have decreased. Nonetheless, Schedule III drugs remain controlled substances subject to regulations, and unauthorized trafficking could still lead to federal prosecution.

Federal drug policy has lagged behind state policies in recent years. Currently, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 24 have approved its recreational use. This trend has contributed to the rapid growth of the marijuana industry, now valued at nearly $30 billion. Easing federal regulations could significantly reduce the tax burden on marijuana businesses, potentially reaching 70% or more, and facilitate more extensive research on marijuana by simplifying the authorization process for clinical studies.

Source: Pioneer Press