Governor Walz Signs Far Reaching Drug Policy Reform Legislation

Press Release May 19, 2023
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026
[email protected]

St. Paul, MN – May 18, 2023 – Today, Governor Tim Walz signed Senate File 2909, the House Omnibus Judiciary and Public Safety Finance bill. In addition to expanding access to harm reduction services, including drug checking services, this bill will make giving away and possessing all drug paraphernalia, as well as any contained residue, legal.  

Evidence shows that harm reduction services save lives and reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases. For example, drug checking can detect additives like fentanyl and xylazine. However,  

harsh penalties for drug use and paraphernalia have long been used unsuccessfully to deter drug use, yet the overdose crisis has only grown dramatically under criminalization and deters people from getting help.  Possession of paraphernalia and even residual amounts of drugs can land someone in jail, saddling them with a lifelong criminal record that prevents them from getting a job, public benefits, or a place to live. The only way to prevent overdose deaths and the harms of an arrest is a new approach that moves away from failed punitive policies toward health-centered policies. This bill will serve as a model for other states to follow suit and begin to reduce the draconian consequences for drug convictions. 

The standalone language from HF2401 and SF2261 was authored by Rep. Aisha Gomez (D-MN) and Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten (D-MN). HF2401 and SF2261 were incorporated into the final public safety omnibus bill, SF2909. 

In response to this decision, the author of the bill and advocates released the following statements:  

Sen. Clare Oumou Verbeten (D-MN): 

“Our Minnesota harm reduction and substance use communities have been silenced for too long. Jail is not the answer to a public health crisis that continues to incarcerate Black, brown and Indigenous Minnesotans with little rehabilitative success and alarmingly high overdose rates. I am proud to author SF 2261, an evidence-based approach to healing the errs of the failed drug war. I look forward to authoring more bills like this in the future, the lives of Minnesotans are on the line.”   

Eddie Krumpotich, Drug Policy Lead Advocate on HF2041 and SF2261: 

“Substance users have been rejected long enough. I fought for these changes since day one to advocate for people like me, people with lived experience whose light becomes darkened by stigma and oppression.  My chronic homelessness on the streets of Minneapolis was my expertise, and I heard ‘no’ for the last time.  Minnesota has courageously decided to follow long standing science. We must meet people where they are and offer a hand and not a jail sentence. Minnesota harm reductionists, people who use drugs and community-led advocates have lighted a path for us all. This one is for us.” 

Sue Purchase, Executive Director, Harm Reduction Sisters: 

“For thirty years harm reduction legislation was needed. We will finally be able to work without fear and serve our Northland communities with the care they deserve. We now have a light to end the HIV epidemic; this has inspired hope in us all.”    

Jack Martin, Executive Director, Southside Harm Reduction Services: 

“HF2041 is a fantastic move in the right direction which will increase access to essential harm reduction services across the state, help reduce overdose deaths and the transmission of HIV and other infections related to drug use and prevent harmful and unnecessary jail time. The criminalization of drug use and the subsequent jail time only prevent people from accessing the care and services that they want and deserve. This bill will also support people in our communities to look after each other. Many of our participants report being worried about bringing naloxone and harm reduction supplies to their rural or tribal communities where they know it is needed because of fear of charges from the police. Syringe access keeps our communities safe. This legislation also comes at a time when Minnesota is experiencing some of the worst racial disparities in the country for overdose deaths with Black Minnesotans dying 3-4 times that of White Minnesotans and Native Americans a horrifying 10 times that of White Minnesotans. More still needs to be done.” 

Ryan Kelly, MD, Chair, Subcommittee on Harm Reduction, Minnesota Medical Society; Member, Health Policy Committee, Minnesota chapter of American College of Physicians; and, Director, Addiction Medicine Consult Team, University of Minnesota Medical Center: 

“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis, compounded by lack of access to safer use supplies. We are seeing huge rises in hepatitis C and HIV infections, as well as hospital admissions from bacterial infections.  Syringe service programs are well known to decrease risk of infections and increase access to naloxone, both key to saving lives and improving health. Arresting people for having a medical condition does not decrease drug use, it creates harms that negatively impact individuals, families, and communities.  For these reasons, The Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Chapter of the American College of Physicians have developed policies supporting the decriminalization of the possession of illicit drugs for personal use.   Decriminalizing residue is an important steppingstone to addressing health inequities and improving lives for all Minnesotans.”  

Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of Criminal Legal and Policing Reform for the Drug Policy Alliance: 

“With the signing of SF2909, Minnesota demonstrates its leadership and commitment to continuing to eradicate the war on drugs and its negative impact on people’s lives. These changes will undoubtedly save the lives of Minnesotans. The next step must be to fully decriminalize drugs for personal use. The criminalization of drug possession is a major driver of arrests and incarceration in Minnesota.  Ending these arrests and reinvesting in community supports and services is the most important step we can take right now, putting the focus back where it belongs – on centering people and public health.”  


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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