‘A form of reparation’: Minnesota will send money to communities harmed by marijuana prohibition

Minnesota will invest tens of millions of dollars into communities that were harmed by marijuana prohibition as part of a new state grant program being hailed as both nation-leading and a way to provide reparations.

The “CanRenew” grant program tucked in Minnesota’s expansive new recreational marijuana law was largely overlooked during discussions at the State Capitol earlier this year. Starting in fiscal year 2026, the program will award $15 million a year to eligible organizations in communities that have high concentrations of people who were convicted for a marijuana offense or had family members who were convicted.

Communities with large veteran populations, high poverty rates or have been determined to have “experienced a disproportionately large amount of cannabis enforcement” will also be eligible for the funding, according to the law.

“This is a form of reparation,” said state Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, who sponsored the marijuana bill in the Senate. “Direct harm has been done to communities by prohibition and by the state, and it is our responsibility to undo that harm. This is really our first major investment in doing that, and it should have the same kind of lasting effects that, unfortunately, the war on drugs has had on communities of color.”

Port said she’s not aware of any other state grant program like this in the nation. The CanRenew grants will be funded by tax revenue from cannabis sales, she said. Minnesota’s marijuana law imposes a 10% tax on marijuana product sales.

The state’s Office of Cannabis Management — which is still being formed — will distribute the grants to community organizations such as schools, nonprofits, private businesses and local governments in hopes of spurring development and prosperity.

Organizations applying for the grants must propose a project or program designed to “improve community-wide outcomes or experiences,” including efforts to boost economic development, public health, violence prevention, youth development or civil legal aid, the law states.

“When we look at what is the most effective way the state can invest or disinvest in people, it is by investments we choose to make in communities,” Port said.

The CanRenew grant program is among a number of initiatives in the new marijuana law that seek to repair past harms. Minnesota will also automatically expunge misdemeanor marijuana cases from residents’ records, and set up a Cannabis Expungement Board to review felony cases.

Additionally, Minnesotans who meet certain “social equity” criteria will be given preference for cannabis business licenses.

Port said she anticipates much of the CanRenew grant money will go to community organizations in the Twin Cities metro area, which has a higher population of people of color.

Black Americans have historically been arrested and charged with marijuana crimes at much higher rates than whites despite both groups using marijuana at similar rates, numerous studies have shown. In Minnesota, Black residents were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes as whites in 2022, according to state data.

GOP state Rep. Nolan West of Blaine voted in favor of the new marijuana law but said he doesn’t support the CanRenew grant program.

“It’ll be wasted,” West said. “It’s just a way to funnel money to [DFL] districts.”

Marcus Harcus, a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization, said he thinks the grant program is a “great idea.” But he’s skeptical of how impactful it will be.

“It just depends where the money goes, how it’s spent,” said Harcus, who’s on the board of the Minnesota Cannabis College, an organization that offers trainings on subjects such as how to grow marijuana at home. “If it was really reparations, they’d have to pay a lot more than that.”

The law includes some provisions meant to hold grant applicants accountable. Applicants must provide an analysis of the community’s need for the proposed investment, its estimated cost and impact, and evidence of the organization’s past history with community investments, among other things.

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for the pro-legalization MN is Ready Coalition, said she wished that funding for the grant program would come from the state’s general fund instead of the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales. Nonetheless, she said she thinks the program is well-intentioned.

“The spirit of it is important,” Fatehi said. “We know that cannabis prohibition disproportionately impacted not just the individuals that are caught up in the criminal justice system themselves … but the entirety of their communities.”

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