Two Republicans appointed to cannabis bill conference committee

House Rep. Nolan West and Sen. Jordan Rasmusson offered amendments in their respective chambers that address concerns critics have over legalizing recreational marijuana.

House Rep. Nolan West, left, and Sen. Jordan Rasmusson offered amendments in their respective chambers that address concerns critics have over legalizing recreational marijuana.

A recreational cannabis bill that has largely been driven by the DFL “trifecta” this session may feature meaningful input from two Republicans before its final form is agreed upon by the House and Senate and likely sent to Gov. Tim Walz to be signed into law later this month.

On Monday, DFL leaders in both chambers appointed members to a conference committee on the legislation, HF100, which includes two Republicans among nine Democrats. The conference committee will be charged with reconciling differences between the versions of the bill that passed in the House on April 25 and the Senate on April 28.

Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, was one of two Republicans who joined DFLers in the House to pass the bill by a vote of 71-59. Rep. Shane Hudella, R-Hastings, also voted yes. West was appointed by DFL House leaders to serve on the recreational cannabis bill conference committee along with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids. Other DFL House conferees for HF100 include: Athena Hollins, Jessica Hanson and Alicia Kozlowski.

The Senate passed its version of the bill 34-33 on a party-line vote. Despite receiving no support from Republicans, Senate DFL leaders appointed Sen. Jordan Rasmussen, R-Fergus Falls, to the conference committee, along with bill sponsor Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville. Other DFL Senate conferees for HF100 include: Susan Pha, Erin Murphy and Clare Oumou Verbeten.

Meetings of the cannabis bill conferees have yet to be held, as conference committees on several larger spending and policy bills are underway this week. That West and Rasmussen have been appointed as conferees is significant, as several of the conference committees that were formed this week did not include Republicans from either the House or the Senate.

Critics advocate for more local control over sales, funding for substance abuse treatment

The recreational cannabis bill has received significant criticism from those in the business community and substance abuse and mental health community.

The versions of the bill that passed the House and then the Senate contain some differences, including the tax rate structure for cannabis sales – 10 percent in the Senate version, compared to 8 percent in the House. The Senate version allows people to possess up to 5 pounds of cannabis flower at home, while the House version limits it to 1.5 pounds.

Many of those differences are expected to be ironed out in the coming days. Testimony from critics of the bill is expected to be taken in the conference committee.

Republicans leaders in both chambers say recreational cannabis legalization is not ready for passage this session, even as they’ve helped make a few changes to the legislation to address concerns from a number of critics in the business and substance abuse support communities.

Now a conferee for HF100, West was among several Republicans in the House to offer amendments to the bill during the committee process and on the floor. He told his colleagues on the House floor last month he’s hopeful the conference committee will take on a number of those amendments to address concerns from local governments who want more authority to regulate where dispensaries can be located within their jurisdictions. He also wants to see additional financial support for drug recognition enforcement programs.

“We can make it so this bill has significant bipartisan support,” West told his House colleagues during an April 25 floor debate before the bill’s passage. “But as you heard from a lot of members over here, you kind of hamstring cities. They don’t have a lot of flexibility. This (version) is a lot better than where the bill started but still has a ways to go. I’d like to see if we can work on that in conference committee.”

Conferee Rasmusson, who voted no on the Senate version, was able to secure bipartisan support on an amendment that would require more specific warning label language on cannabis products. He encouraged DFL senators to consider the ramifications of passing the bill in its current form, which he said lacked consideration for the costs to local governments and substance abuse disorder issues among the populace.

“This bill does not need to be passed this year,” Rasmusson said during an April 28 Senate floor debate. “This is a budget year. We could continue the conversation and make sure that if Minnesota is going to legalize recreational cannabis that we do it in a smart way with all the information we need to make a wise decision”

Provisions in the bill would make it legal for individuals age 21 or older to:

  • possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis in a public place and 1.5 pounds in their home;
  • possess or transport edible products infused with up to 800 mg of THC;
  • possess or transport up to 8 grams of adult-use cannabis concentrate;
  • give away cannabis and cannabinoid-related products in an amount that is legal for individuals to possess in public;
  • cultivate up to eight cannabis plants on their residential property.

Another provision in the bill would also expunge the criminal records of those convicted of low-level cannabis offenses.

If signed into law, the decriminalization component of the bill would become effective by Aug. 1 of this year.


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.