A new Minnesota law allowing adults to buy edibles and drinks infused with low amounts of THC and other cannabinoids has generated significant enthusiasm among consumers. But the sponsor of the bill is recognizing that the current lack of statewide regulations means that it will be up to local governments to set rules for the market within their jurisdictions, at least for now.
Since the legislation’s enactment, Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL) and other Democratic lawmakers haven’t been shy about the fact that they created a quasi-legal cannabis program for edibles by deliberately diverting attention away from those provisions, choosing instead to focus on the components that establish regulations for delta-8 THC products.
Putting specific rules for licensing, zoning and other issues for THC edibles in the bill as introduced could have caught the attention of Republicans who control the state Senate and jeopardized the bipartisan support the measure received in the legislature, Edelson said earlier this week. But now that the law has taken effect, the sponsor is explaining steps that localities can take to fill the regulatory gaps as she crafts follow-up legislation for statewide rules for the next session.
“This law is absolutely a positive step for Minnesotans to access products in a safe and legal way,” Edelson said in a press release on Thursday. “That said, with every law we pass at the state level, issues will arise throughout the year when the Minnesota Legislature is not in session. The ability for municipalities to offer important guidance and clarity on day-to-day operations and compliance within a city is vital.”
To that end, the lawmaker has been meeting with mayors, city council members, city managers and the League of Minnesota Cities over recent weeks to educate them about how the law could impact their areas and how they can set parameters around local markets.
For example, individual municipalities can set licensing policies for cannabis businesses that sell the THC edibles, in much the same way that they’re empowered to regulate local tobacco sales. They can also oversee compliance and enforcement through existing bodies that already oversee tobacco and alcohol businesses.
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Zoning is another areas where local governments are empowered to establish rules, such as requiring that cannabis businesses are not located within a certain distance of schools.
“I look forward to continuing conversations with the League of Minnesota Cities as well as other local municipalities individually to ensure they understand their authority and to help this law operate successfully,” Edelson said.
While some GOP lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller (R) have backed the overall bill in the interest of regulating delta-8 THC products that have become widely available, others have signaled that they wouldn’t have advanced the legislation if they’d realized that it would be opening up a market for certain edibles.
Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Jim Abeler (R) voted for the bill, for example, but he subsequently said that he felt a rollback was in order after becoming aware about the edibles components.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL), who has consistently championed broad marijuana legalization in the legislature, called that proposal “ridiculous,” and he’s since stressed that the modest and novel reform was an “intentional step” toward legalizing recreational cannabis.
“We have a lot of work to do in Minnesota on cannabis legalization, but this is an important step forward—and the door is now open to consumers having access to products containing THC that many of them prefer to consume,” Winkler, who is currently running for Hennepin County Attorney, said at a press conference earlier this week. “I don’t think we are going to go backwards.”
The edibles language isn’t entirely without regulations, either.
Under the newly implemented law, adults 21 and older can possess and consume hemp-based edibles and beverages that contain up to five milligrams of THC per serving, with a maximum 50 milligrams THC per package. The products cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, per state and federal hemp statute.
The measure also provides new testing, labeling and packaging requirements for hemp products—including restrictions on labeling that appeals to children. Edibles can’t resemble popular candies, or be shaped like animals or fruits.
It doesn’t appear that the legislation explicitly prevents the sale of edible gummies shaped like the GOP Senate committee chairman who inadvertently helped advance the bill that he’s now expressed reservations about, however.
Minnesotans put the face of the guy who didn’t realize he was legalizing edibles on the packaging of their edibles. Absolutely savage https://t.co/Y7wfNkODYI
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) July 6, 2022
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who supports legalization and signed the THC bill early last month, also said this week that he was aware that the legislation would reshape Minnesota’s cannabis market. And he told reporters on Wednesday that he’s still committed to enacting broader reform, stating that he’d even convene a special legislative session again to give Republican lawmakers an “opportunity” to pass legalization if the caucus had the appetite for it.
The cannabis reform development in Minnesota is largely the result of an effort to permanently correct a legislative drafting problem that emerged after state lawmakers sought to align Minnesota’s hemp policy with that of the federal government.
Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (D) tried in May to advance broader legalization through a a procedural mechanism that would have required a supermajority of 41 votes to advance. But it failed, as expected. A House companion version did pass that full chamber last year.
Back in January, Winkler and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.
Winkler said at the time that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, was the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
Separately, certain Democrats including staff for Winkler have found themselves caught up in a controversy over an alleged (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to change the name of a third party focused on marijuana that some have seen as undercutting Democratic support on the ballot in past cycles to one instead meant to appeal to far-right conservatives in an apparent attempt to siphon votes away from Republicans in the upcoming election.
The government, meanwhile, included funding to implement the reform in his annual budget request to lawmakers in January.
While he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his prior budget request, Walz said this year that he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with the House-passed bill.
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but it does not seem that will happen this year.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.