Marijuana legalization outlook: Minnesota fading, Alabama gov says yes

(MJBizDaily takes a weekly look at marijuana legalization and reform efforts across the U.S. while state legislatures are in session. This story has been updated to note that Alabama’s governor signed a bill into law and the failure of a Nebraska effort.)

Minnesota’s House of Representatives passed recreational marijuana in a historic vote last Thursday, but the bill likely will die in the Republican-led Senate, which isn’t expected to consider the measure before the legislative session ends later Monday.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a medical marijuana legalization bill into law Monday, making the state the second in the Deep South to approve the creation of an MMJ program.

In Nebraska, a restrictive medical marijuana bill in the Legislature died by filibuster. Advocates now will try to get a measure on the 2022 ballot.

In Mississippi, marijuana legalization took an unprecedented step backward Friday after the state’s highest court shot down a voter-approved medical marijuana referendum.

That’s believed to be the first time an MMJ initiative has been overturned after residents approved it at the ballot box and, in this case, overwhelmingly so.

Minnesota

While House lawmakers approved an adult-use marijuana market last week by a 72-61 margin, the Legislature is expected to adjourn later Monday without the Senate taking up the bill.

However, not all is lost on the Minnesota marijuana reform front.

A measure to allow smokable flower in the state’s highly regulated medical marijuana program is expected to be passed later Monday by the Legislature as part of the Human Services Finance Omnibus Bill, according to Minneapolis TV station KSTP.

Smokable flower would give a huge boost to the program, making it more financially viable for the two operators and driving down prices for customers.

Alabama

Gov. Ivey’s approval of a restrictive medical marijuana market comes nearly two weeks after lawmakers passed the landmark legislation.

Under the law, rules are to be adopted in time to allow business license applications to start by Sept. 1, 2022.

The Alabama Compassionate Act bans smokable flower, vaping products, candies and baked goods. It also has low dosage limits. But the measure does offer a number of licensing opportunities.

Alabama would have been the third market in the Deep South to legalize MMJ, but Mississippi’s Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved measure in that state on May 14.

Nebraska

State Sen. Anna Wishart characterized her medical cannabis legislation as a “last chance” for lawmakers before the issue goes to voters.

So, now that the bill has again failed in the Legislature, efforts will focus on putting it on the 2022 ballot.

A medical cannabis measure failed to get on the ballot last fall when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the initiative language violated a “single-subject rule.”

Nebraska cannabis advocates are prepared this time, and plan to put forth a revised measure that passes constitutional muster.

Mississippi

The state’s highest court voided a business-friendly medical marijuana law that the 2021 MJBizFactbook projected would generate $265 million in sales in its first full year of operation and $800 million annually by the fourth year.

Mississippians had passed the initiative at the polls in November by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that the MMJ initiative was invalid because it didn’t meet a provision in the state’s Constitution requiring that 20% of the signatures come from each of five congressional districts.

That provision is impossible to meet because Mississippi went from five to four congressional districts after the 2000 census, and the Legislature failed seven times to update the language.

An attorney defending the initiative for the Secretary of State’s office had argued that the “fairest” way to read the intent of the law was to go by language in the state code.

Legalization activists denounced the court’s decision.

Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, called on Mississippi’s Legislature to honor voter will by enacting the referendum through the legislative process.

But the Legislature itself has been anti-marijuana. Lawmakers essentially tried to defeat the MMJ measure before November’s election by placing a competing, more restrictive measure on the ballot.

This isn’t the only challenge to voter-approved referendums.

In South Dakota, a lower court struck down an adult-use legalization measure, and now the state Supreme Court is deciding the case after advocates appealed.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.