Minnesota’s Weird Weed Experiment – POLITICO


Additionally, the lack of state licensing requirements to produce or sell the new legal products means almost anyone can make high-induction gummy bears in their mother’s basement without getting the license. approval from a state agency.

“They effectively legalized a very different regulatory approach to hemp than we see in any other state,” said Gillian Schauer, executive director of the Cannabis Regulators Association.

Almost everyone — from top state officials to city administrators to some state lawmakers — were caught off guard when the law went into effect this summer. Lawmakers were trying to address a significant public health threat: the rapid proliferation of unregulated hemp-derived intoxicants that have spread across the country in the past two years, particularly in states that have no not legalized recreational marijuana sales.

“That stuff is out there,” Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, a Democrat who has led the charge for legalization in the state, said in an interview. “The federal government is doing nothing to regulate it. …So we had to find a way to manage a sort of Wild West of THC sales.

State agency and industry officials admit that few major problems have emerged — so far — since the legalization experiment began. But public health experts worry that the state’s new, lightly regulated adult-use market will do little to reduce the chances of unwitting consumers ingesting unsafe products. And lawmakers face calls from across the ideological spectrum to create legal clarity around the cannabis agenda when they return to Capitol Hill next year.

« It’s been a boom, » Indeed Brewing Company chief operating officer Kelly Moritz said, speaking on a recent afternoon in their Minneapolis tasting room as John Prine — perhaps best known for the stoner anthem « Illegal Smile » – was playing in the background.

Indeed, Brewing began selling its Two Good seltzer with 2 milligrams of CBD and THC shortly after the law took effect. Sales have been buoyant enough that the brewer is considering adding gummy bears and a 5 milligram drink to its lineup of THC offerings in the near future.

« I think for the most part people are trying to follow the letter of the law and trying to do the right thing, trying to be responsible, » Moritz said.

Cities on the front line

The new law presented a conundrum to municipal officials across the state.

Patricia Beety, general counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities, which represents more than 800 municipalities, said local governments face three main options: write their own zoning and licensing rules for businesses selling products. cannabis, enact a moratorium of up to a year prohibiting businesses from operating, or do nothing at all.

Golden Valley is one of at least seven cities — and one county — that have enacted licensing rules and sales restrictions. The Minneapolis suburb’s approach mirrored its smoking regulations, including a ban on businesses operating within 500 feet of a park or school. So far, two companies, both located in the same mall, have obtained licenses to sell THC-infused edibles and drinks.

« This is a whole new area of ​​policy for us locally, and even for the state, » Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris said in an interview. « It’s going to stay pretty tight until we have a better idea of ​​what the Legislative Assembly is going to do next year. »

There was no consensus among Minnesota local governments on the right approach. As of Sept. 20, at least 30 cities and three counties had adopted moratoriums, according to the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, which tracks such decisions.

Still, the vast majority of counties and municipalities — including Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester, the state’s three largest cities — have opted to take a wait-and-see approach. They have not adopted specific licensing or zoning rules or decreed a moratorium.

« I don’t want to rush it, » Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins said in an interview. “But I think we kind of have to get the situation under control. … Let’s take our time and come up with policies that will be fair, that will truly recognize some of the harms that have been done to black and brown communities.

Cities and counties could also try to completely ban the sale of intoxicating hemp-derived products — except that it’s unclear whether they have the authority under state law to do so. .

“We cannot examine any precedent. … We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Beety said. “Can you just ban them? I do not know.

Push for legislative changes

One change the League of Minnesota Cities will push for when lawmakers meet again next year is clear: the explicit power of local governments to ban adult-use cannabis businesses.

“Almost every state that has recreational marijuana allows local communities to opt out, and we want that,” Beety said.

Lawmakers will also likely be in a rush to consider state licensing for companies producing and selling hemp-derived products. Otherwise, there’s no easy way to track — and potentially recall — products if they’re found to be unsafe.

“We often get calls from people saying, ‘Hey, do you have a list of our licensees, so I can go out and see if they’re compliant?’ But there is no list,” said Chris Tholkes, director of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Another change that will certainly be discussed is the creation of a single regulatory authority to oversee all cannabis products to replace an oversight structure spread across three different agencies. The Department of Health runs the state’s medical marijuana program, which has nearly 40,000 enrolled patients, while hemp growers are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Under the new law legalizing edibles and intoxicating beverages, products fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Pharmacy.

Another wrinkle unique to the new law: There are no state taxes levied on products beyond sales tax. This will no doubt be a topic of discussion in the Legislative Assembly next year. And many municipalities will also push for the power to levy their own taxes on adult-use cannabis businesses.

Harris, of Golden Valley, points out that the inner suburb gets many commuters crossing its streets, and that no doubt now includes people who stop to shop at the two stores in town licensed to sell edibles. and cannabis drinks.

« It’s causing a lot of wear and tear on our infrastructure, » Harris said of commuter traffic. « So we want to try and capture some of that revenue. »

Booming trade

Cannabis advocates point out that hemp-derived Delta-8 THC products with no potency limits were widely available in Minnesota before July 1, even though they weren’t explicitly legal. These products are typically made by taking federally legal hemp crops with a THC level below 0.3% and using a chemical process to increase potency.

Delta-8 THC products have have proliferated across the country in the past two years, with producers taking advantage of uncertainty about their legality under federal law. State regulators have taken a variety of approaches to addressing the burgeoning market — ranging from outright banning products, subjecting them to the same rules and regulations as legal marijuana products, to a completely hands-off approach.

Boosters of Minnesota’s new cannabis experiment say it’s an improvement from a public health perspective because there are now limited safeguards around what’s allowed. Further, they point out, it has sparked a flurry of entrepreneurial activity as companies seek to capitalize on the legalization of edibles and beverages.

Hemp growers, in particular, are happy to have a new outlet for their crops. The state has seen a boon to farmers growing the plant since its initial legalization in 2015, but many have struggled to find buyers in an oversaturated market.

Angela Dawson is a black farmer who has been growing hemp in Sandstone, about 90 miles north of the Twin Cities, since 2019. She also started the 40 Acre Co-Op to help other black farmers build sustainable businesses.

« At first I was a little skeptical, » Dawson said of the new law legalizing hemp-derived products. “I expected it to be much less advantageous for us. …And so I was quite pleasantly surprised that there was actually progress being made.

Dawson said growers in the state now buy hemp from his farm to create THC candies and kombucha drinks. She is optimistic that the market will continue to grow if adjustments are made to help it thrive.

“Hopefully, even though it came as a surprise to all of us, it’s something that lawmakers will see as something we can improve on, instead of going backwards,” she said.

Winkler, the House Majority Leader, did not run for election. But he is drafting a new version of a recreation legalization bill that passed the House in 2021, though the measure went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

« No Republican I’ve spoken to wants to go back, » Winkler said. “They know where the audience is. I think this opens the door to a legal THC market in Minnesota. And now that the door is open, it will continue to open further and further, and it was wanted. »


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