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Minnesota House Committee Urges Marijuana Decriminalization And Expungements As Racial Justice Moves


A panel of Minnesota lawmakers is backing the decriminalization of marijuana and expunging past cannabis records as a way to help “dismantle systemic racism” in the state.

Last week, the House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities and recommends a series of policy changes that could resolve those issues.

In order to “address disproportionately harmful impacts on communities of color” in the legal system, the legislature should pursue cannabis decriminalization and clearing the records of those convicted on non-violent marijuana offenses, the report states.

The select committee was tasked with assessing racial disparities in the state as part of a resolution that was approved by the House in July. It urges the governor and the Senate to “adopt resolutions affirming that racism is a public health crisis resulting in disparities in family stability, health and mental wellness, education, employment, economic development, public safety, criminal justice, and housing.”

To that end, panel members are calling for their recommendations to “be at the center” of the legislature’s work to put together a budget in fiscal year 2021, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said in a press release.

Winkler filed a bill earlier this year to fully legalize marijuana in Minnesota, describing it as the “best” in the country in part because it would have prioritized social equity in the industry. It did not move in the legislature, however.

Gov. Tim Walz (D), who backs legalization, said last year that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

“I’m proud of the Select Committee’s hard work this year to help Minnesotans understand the historical context behind systemic racism, and to give the unacceptable racial disparities throughout the state the attention they deserve,” the committee’s co-chair Rep. Rena Moran (D) said.

“Now, it’s time for the rest of the Legislature to follow through on these important recommendations to help Black, Indigenous, and People of Color live healthy, safe, and prosperous lives full of opportunity to reach their full potential,” she said.

In addition to the cannabis-related recommendations, the panel also advised the legislature to implement a pilot program that relates to “women convicted of non-violent drug-related felony crimes” and “certified substance use disorder treatment programs.”

Co-chair Rep. Ruth Richardson (D) said that the “COVID-19 pandemic and senseless murder of George Floyd shined a light on the historical and contemporary injustices that are still embedded in our society.”

“The work we did on this select committee was long overdue and it represents a commitment to bring about meaningful change in our state and the Minnesota House as an institution,” she said.

Prior to the committee vote to adopt the report, Richardson drew a distinction between the decriminalization recommendation, which she said was supported by law enforcement, and broader legalization.

As in Minnesota, members of the U.S. House of Representatives were also motivated to take action on drug reform following the police killing of Floyd, introducing a resolution in May that specifically cites the racial injustices of the war on drugs.

In June, Georgia lawmakers included a provision to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession as part of a comprehensive policing reform bill that did not ultimately advance.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, meanwhile, pushed the legislature to move beyond simply decriminalizing marijuana and pursue legalization during a summer special sessionthat was largely focused on criminal justice reform. That did not materialize, but a working group comprised of four Virginia cabinet secretaries and other top officials submitted recommendations to the governor and lawmakers last month about how to best implement a legal marijuana program in the state.

In North Carolina, a racial justice task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) recently issued a report that calls on the state to decriminalize marijuana possession and initiate a study on whether to more broadly legalize cannabis sales.

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