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Did Minnesota Unintentionally Legalize Marijuana?

By Hunter Dublin | July 13, 2022

Earlier this month, just a few weeks after the new law went into effect, enabling anybody over the age of 21 to purchase edibles or beverages containing up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving. Those low potency drugs, with up to 50 milligrams per packet, have enough psychoactive punch to make most users euphoric.

However, several prominent senators who backed the significant change in drug policy were puzzled about what they'd done.

Marijuana legalization has long been a contentious subject in the Minnesota Legislature. The Democratic-controlled House enacted legislation last year that would enable anyone over the age of 21 to purchase and possess marijuana legally. Still, the Republican-controlled Senate has remained steadfastly opposed to recreational legalization. Nonetheless, a legalization measure was accepted without debate or dissent during a long conference committee meeting in May.

"Doesn't that make marijuana legal?" The Republican chair of The Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Sen. Jim Abeler, inquired after the bill was approved by voice vote. "Didn't we just do that?"

Democratic Rep. Tina Liebling used the chance to poke fun at her Republican rival, saying, "Are you kidding? You have, of course."

Liebling soon clarified that the part that caused the misunderstanding would not really legalize marijuana in the state. "That's what we'll do next," she laughed.

Abeler sent inquiries to a Senate Republican spokeswoman, who did not reply to a request for comment.

However, he informed the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he believed the clause would only legalize Delta-8 THC products, which are currently freely available in Minnesota, and not Delta-9 THC goods, which are still prohibited on the federal level. Delta-8 products have an ambiguous legal position under federal law since they are made from hemp containing less than 0.3 percent THC, which Congress allowed in the 2018 agriculture bill.

Making guardrails

Democrats claim they were fully aware of the hemp legislation's consequences. They point out that the measure was subjected to three committee hearings in the Democratic-led House. Furthermore, they contend that it is a much-needed public health enhancement, considering that intoxicating Delta-8 products were already being distributed across the state with no laws or regulatory control. Over the previous two years, such products have flourished across the country, particularly in places where marijuana usage is still strictly prohibited.

"The substances were already being marketed all over the place," Liebling explained in an interview. "My major concern... was to construct some guardrails around it."

Legalization supporters who worked on the measure back up the claim that it was thoroughly vetted before being tacked onto a large omnibus health care law at the conclusion of the parliamentary session.

"Our rules were not clear enough to ensure that people purchasing these goods were safe," said Maren Schroeder, policy director for Sensible Change Minnesota, which advocates for marijuana legalization. "We spoke a lot about what is intoxicating and what isn't, and how we needed to measure it in some way, shape, or form."

However, Senate Republicans are significantly less eager to address the law and whether they would allow intoxicating cannabis products.

Republican Sens. Michelle Benson, chairwoman of the Senate Human Services Licensing Policy Committee, and Mark Koran, a significant player on cannabis matters, both directed queries to the caucus spokeswoman.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, a Democrat who has advocated for marijuana legalization, said Abeler and other Republican members should have been fully aware of the hemp provision's implications.

"Either he wasn't paying attention or wasn't asking very good questions, or he knew and didn't want his fingerprints on it," Winkler said in an interview. "I'm not sure which is correct."

Smart Approaches to Marijuana CEO Kevin Sabet termed the decision an "embarrassing disaster" for Minnesota.

"I'm not sure if that was done on purpose, but if it was, it's highly devious and probably unconstitutional," he wrote in an email. "We will endeavor to correct this." We've already heard from parents concerned about their children accidentally consuming it."

'There are lines out the door.'

Consumers appear to be thrilled about the new market for intoxicating candies and beverages, and overturning the shift would be exceedingly controversial given the widespread support for marijuana legalization in Minnesota and across the country.

Shawn Weber, managing director of Crested River Cannabis Company in rural southwestern Minnesota, said his company hasn't experienced a significant increase in retail sales since the law went into effect, noting that they were previously selling more potent Delta-8 products than the new law allows. However, wholesale commerce has increased significantly.

"Other retail outlets are completely sold out." "There have been queues out the door," Weber added. "There was a greater consumer rush to the retailers in the larger towns." All of our local customers were aware that these items existed."

Indeed Brewing Firm's CEO, Tom Whisenand, points out that his company previously made a non-intoxicating seltzer called Lull containing 10 milligrams of CBD. However, it ceased manufacturing last year after the Minnesota Department of Agriculture informed it that the product was prohibited.

"We understood we were in a weird situation with that beverage at the time since CBD was not officially permitted in Minnesota," Whisenand explained. "However, there were a lot of items for sale."

The business intends to capitalize on the new rule by releasing a reformulated cannabis beverage on the market by August 1, containing 2 milligrams of THC and CBD apiece. Whisenand stated that Lull was quite popular and that he anticipates strong demand for the new product, Two Good.

"We absolutely have adequate capacity to meet the anticipated first demand," he added. "It depends on how well it does."


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