ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - A top Minnesota House Democrat said his chamber will vote by the end of the legislative session to legalize recreational marijuana.
Democrats have aggressively pushed their adult-use marijuana legislation through four committees this session, even as Republicans who control the Senate vow to block the bill. GOP members in the Senate are debating an expansion of the state's medical marijuana program instead.
The House bill will be done with its remaining committee stops in April and be ready for a floor vote in May, Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told FOX 9 in an email.
"Minnesotans are ready for cannabis, and we will keep pushing until it gets done," said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
The bill would allow people ages 21 and older to possess marijuana and grow up to eight plants. It sets up a framework for businesses to produce and sell the drug and imposes a 10 percent sales tax, which participants in Minnesota's medical marijuana program would be exempted from paying.
The measure also gets rid of some criminal penalties and wipes clean the records of many people convicted of marijuana-related crimes.
Support has come almost entirely from Democrats, though two Republicans -- state Reps. Keith Franke and Tony Jurgens -- voted in one committee to advance the legislation forward.
Fifteen states have legalized adult-use marijuana. New York became the latest on Wednesday when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that also expunges the records of people convicted of possessing a small amount of the drug.
Minnesota will almost certainly not become the next state to do so, as Senate Republicans say they do not support legalization. Instead, some GOP members are advancing legislation to expand the state's medical marijuana program.
Their bill would allow medical users to smoke the drug by allowing dried raw plants to be administered within the program. Other changes would allow curbside delivery and make opioid addiction a treatable condition.
"This is a sincere step to update our medical cannabis program," state Sen. Michelle Benson, the Republican who chairs the Senate Health committee, said March 1. "It is not a path toward legalization."
Minnesota's program is the only one in the U.S. that does not allow medical users to smoke marijuana, which is a cheaper treatment than using oils.
Kim Kelsey, whose son Alec uses CBD oil to treat life-threatening seizures after a near-fatal diagnosis of encephalitis, said her family has spent $65,000 over the past five and a half years on the treatment.
"$65,000 cash," she told lawmakers during a March 1 hearing. "Unfortunately, the cost of his medical cannabis has been a serious financial challenge to us."
As of last week, 31,953 patients are active in Minnesota's medical marijuana program. It currently has 15 approved conditions, with two more -- sickle cell disease and chronic motor or vocal tic disorder -- becoming effective in August.