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Democratic legislators on Thursday unveiled their bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota, setting the stage for months of debate on an issue that could become law this year.

The proposal, released on the third day of the 2023 legislative session, represents the most serious push yet for marijuana legalization in Minnesota. Democrats no longer have a Republican Senate majority in their way and also control the state House and governor's office.

"The Senate is committed to making sure that we right this wrong," said state Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, the bill's Senate sponsor. "Cannabis being illegal here in Minnesota … has done more harm than good. It is time that we change that."

Rep. Zack Stephenson, the Coon Rapids DFLer sponsoring the bill in the House, added, "I believe that 2023 is the year we will legalize adult-use cannabis in Minnesota."

Twenty-one states have legalized recreational marijuana.

The House set its first public hearing for Jan. 11 in the Commerce committee. The Senate could hold its first hearing in the next two weeks, Port said.

But don't expect quick passage. Leaders of the DFL House and Senate have said the nearly 250-page bill needs to be reviewed and discussed by many committees. And the Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, meaning their whole caucus must unite behind the bill if no Republicans support it.

If the bill becomes law, Stephenson said it would "be a matter of months, not years" before Minnesotans 21 and older could legally buy and use marijuana flower and products.

Legalization opponents say they don't believe passage is a done deal, and have talked to legislators who have significant concerns about how it could affect traffic and workplace safety.

"Minnesota is not ready for legalized cannabis," Minnesota Catholic Conference lobbyist Ryan Hamilton said Tuesday during a Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization news conference.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, issued a statement Thursday urging Democrats not to rush toward marijuana legalization.

"We need to hear from law enforcement, employers, addiction counselors, educators, and others who have concerns about legalizing marijuana," Johnson said. "We know that even small changes in this area of law can lead to huge changes in the market and in people's practices."

A spokesman for GOP House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth did not respond to a request for comment.

The bill introduced Thursday resembles legislation passed by the Democratic House in 2021, with some updates.

Among the most significant changes are new regulations for the low-dose THC edible market, which saw explosive demand after lawmakers legalized hemp-derived products containing up to 5 milligrams of THC per serving last year.

The bill would create a licensing structure for sellers of marijuana products and low-dose edibles, since last year's edible law did not establish one. It would also change who regulates the hemp-derived edibles, temporarily moving the jurisdiction from the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy to the Department of Health for one year.

After that, the products would be regulated by a state agency created by the bill: the Office of Cannabis Management. That office would regulate both recreational and medical marijuana.

Edible products would be divided into two categories: "lower potency," capped at 5 milligrams of THC per serving, and regular edibles, which could contain up to 10 milligrams per serving and 100 milligrams per package. Both categories could be derived from either hemp or marijuana.

Cannabis products would be subject to sales tax as well as an 8% gross receipts tax.

DFL Rep. Aisha Gomez, chairwoman of the House Taxes Committee, said lawmakers did not want to impose too high of a tax out of fear that it would push Minnesotans toward the black market.

"We designed this bill to address the wrongs of prohibition, to bring people out of the illicit market and into a regulated market," Gomez said.

Licensed retailers would be allowed to sell up to two ounces of cannabis flower, eight grams of cannabis concentrate and 800 milligrams worth of edible products per customer.

Minnesotans 21 and older could possess 2 ounces or less of flower in a public space and 5 pounds or less in their home. They also could grow up to eight cannabis plants at home, but no more than four of those could be mature and flowering.

Certain low-level marijuana crimes would be automatically expunged from Minnesotans' records under the proposed bill, while a new special board would review other convictions.

"We cannot legalize cannabis without expungement. This is a racial justice issue," said state Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul. "The harm that has been done to communities of color needs to end."

Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.