Q&A: Sen. Port on Legalizing Cannabis

Sen. Lindsey Port
Sen. Lindsey Port

By Erica Lee and Dylan Lennick

The recreational use of cannabis was officially legalized in the state of Minnesota on Aug. 1, 2023 — promoting social equity for communities that have been over-prosecuted by former cannabis laws for decades.

A member of Minnesota State Senate who helped write bills HF100 and SF73 — the companion cannabis policy bills — Sen. Lindsey Port (DFL, Burnsville) sat down with ThreeSixty reporters Dylan Lennick and Erica Lee to discuss the importance of the bills and how the legalization of cannabis will be used to positively influence Minnesota communities.

Lennick and Lee also spoke with both the president and strategic director of a youth-led nonprofit called World Youth Connect, Darius Duffie and Darian Lofton. Duffie and Lofton are both members of the Cannabis Education and Awareness Council that operates under their organization. The two weighed in on the value of educating the youth on cannabis.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The marijuana bill features an emphasis on social equity, particularly with who gets prioritized to sell cannabis. What prompted you to make this a priority when writing the bill?

Great question. One of the main reasons I took this bill on is because over the years as I’ve learned more about prohibition and how prohibition worked, it was incredibly disproportionate where the harm from prohibition fell. It was a failed system. It didn’t work. Cannabis is in our communities already. This is not something new. It’s not like it was working, but it did have very high costs, particularly for communities of color who are over-policed, over-prosecuted and had longer sentencing regarding marijuana crimes. It is the state’s responsibility to undo that harm. That means we have to aim the benefits proportionally at the communities that were harmed.

That means social equity licensing. That means making sure those folks can get licenses first. That means making it easier for communities of color, and people who have previous cannabis records to be able to get jobs in the industry to remove barriers that would keep them from doing that. And then, to invest the tax money that we get back because the reality is that this bill legalizing cannabis is going to bring a lot of money into the state, and that tax revenue should go directly back to those communities.

How would the process of getting the tax dollars back into the disproportionality, harmed communities work?

One of my very favorite parts of this bill is the CanRenew grants, which is specifically targeted at communities that have been over-policed for cannabis, which in Minnesota is primarily communities of color.

These grants go directly to those communities; so if what they see is they need more youth programs in their communities, then they can use those grants for youth programs. If what they see is they’ve seen a lack of infrastructure or small businesses in their communities, they can use that to help support them. It really is structured to go to communities who have faced the most harm and be as flexible as possible for them to use in the way that their communities benefit from. And it’s $20 million a year in perpetuity. Once the industry is up and going, those grants start going into communities. As long as we are collecting the tax revenue, I believe we should be putting that money back into communities that were most harmed.

Another portion of this bill that caught our eyes was the expungement portion. What is the rationale behind looking at past marijuana charges?

I see that past marijuana convictions can have damaging effects for years or decades in the future. If you have a drug conviction, a cannabis conviction, a possession conviction, it can block you from getting housing. It can block you from getting a job, it can block you from getting into college. Now that we have legalized marijuana, we know the harm was disproportionately done, so we have to wipe that out. We have to make sure that folks who have past convictions for anything that would be legal now should be automatically expunged.

Dylan and Erica worked with MPR Politics Editor Brian Bakst, Star Tribune Reporter Zoë Jackson and Southwest Voices Editor Melody Hoffmann to finish their story. This story was completed at ThreeSixty’s Winter News Team: Capitol Edition in February 2024, where high school journalists covered important legislative issues, impacting Minnesota youth. Read more stories here.