Business leaders blast recreational marijuana bill

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said the DFL-sponsored legislation is not ready, calling for the formation of a state task force to better analyze the "full scope" of legalization ramifications.

Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) had to fend off criticism of his recreational marijuana bill this week from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The organization represents more than 6,300 businesses that employ more than a half million people across the state. (MN House Info/YouTube)

One of the largest associations of businesses in Minnesota is delivering strong criticism this week on a recreational marijuana bill its members believe is “not something the legislature should prioritize at this time.”

In its Jan. 29 written testimony to a state house committee, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce cited a number of workplace safety and employer liability-related issues it says remain unresolved in the language of HF100/SF73 as reasons for its opposition to the bill.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce represents more than 6,300 businesses that employ more than a half million people across Minnesota. The organization says the DFL legislators sponsoring the bill haven’t included enough opinion and analysis from businesses outside the commercial cannabis industry.

The chamber is asking for formation of a state task force “to analyze and understand the full scope of public health, safety, criminal justice, societal, workplace, taxpayer, state and economic costs and ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana in Minnesota and for Minnesotans,” wrote Lauryn Schothorst, a policy director for the organization.

“This task force should include representation from Minnesota’s non-cannabis business community and its findings must incorporate employers’ perspective, including how to reconcile existing deficiencies in marijuana diagnostic standards and testing capabilities against any new obligations and liabilities that would be placed on employers due to legalization,” Schothorst wrote.

The chamber testimony went on to point out the lack of guidelines on marijuana impairment standards related to driving motor vehicles and operating machinery.

“Since countless numbers of employees in Minnesota are required to safely operate vehicles and machinery and work on sites or in facilities where there is little room for human error, this lack of an objective, independent means for determining unsafe levels of impairment is concerning,” Schothorst wrote.

The chamber letter was reviewed by legislators in the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday. The bill continues to move through House committees with mostly party-line support from the DFL majority.

The committee also heard from other testifiers opposing the bill, including two statewide associations representing county sheriffs and chiefs of police.

The bill doesn’t contain a tight enough regulatory framework to ensure that illicit sales of marijuana won’t continue post-legalization, according to a jointly written testimony by Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

The bill “as written would allow for an individual to run what in essence would be a commercial enterprise out of their backyard,” the letter said.

Representatives with the League of Minnesota Cities also asked the bill’s author, Rep. Zach Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, to ensure the legislation allows more latitude for local government control over licensing and regulation of cannabis sales.

Republicans in the committee offered more than one dozen different amendments to the bill, most of which were voted down by the DFL majority. Two of those amendments included language that would allow counties and townships to hold a referendum as to whether to allow sales of recreational marijuana within their jurisdiction.

“I’m troubled by the lack of local control in this bill,” said Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia.

The bill has received five hearings in various House committees since the legislative session began this month, and is expected to make nine more committee stops before it receives a vote on the House floor, Stephenson said. A Senate version was heard in a jobs and economic development committee this week.

Gov. Tim Walz has told members of the media he believes the recreational marijuana bill will arrive at his desk “by May,” and has expressed his support for the bill.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.