New edible cannabis law surprises some Minnesota regulators, lawmakers by surprise

A new state law that took effect on Friday that legalizes edibles containing certain amounts of the ingredient in cannabis that gets you high appears to have taken some state regulators and legislators by surprise – revealing that some who approved the legislation no may not have fully understood what was in it.

Minnesotans age 21 or older can now purchase THC-infused edibles and beverages that contain no more than 5 milligrams per serving and 50 milligrams per package. Five milligrams is about half the standard dose found in recreational marijuana products in other states.

The head of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which will have regulatory authority over new hemp-derived cannabis products, said legalizing THC-infused edibles and beverages was not in the original bill on the sweeping hemp industry reforms that the council helped craft.

“Some things were changed at the last hour, including the 5 milligrams and the 50 milligrams,” said Jill Phillips, executive director of the pharmacy board. “But here we are. He’s been adopted and we’re going to do our best to support him.”

New Minnesota products must be derived from legally certified hemp — which contains traces of the psychoactive compound THC — rather than marijuana, which remains illegal in the state.

But THC will produce the same effect whether it comes from hemp or marijuana, according to industry experts.

Rep. Heather Edelson, an Edina Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House, rebutted Phillips’ claim that the bill was changed at the “eleventh hour.” Edelson said the milligram dosage language was added to the bill long before the end of the session and noted that the House held three committee hearings on the legislation.

“He was put in there seamlessly,” Edelson said.

Emails exchanged in March between Edelson, DFL House staffers and Cody Wiberg, the former pharmacy board director, suggest the board was well aware of the decision to include in the bill THC edibles containing up to 5 milligrams per serving.

“Changing the THC limits is a political call, I think,” Wiberg wrote in a March 22 email to Edelson and two staff members. “A candy with 5mg of THC may get some people high – kids and adults who haven’t used THC products a lot. But the Council won’t oppose this change.”

The new law was born out of an effort to strengthen market regulation for hemp-derived products.

Hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products were already legal in Minnesota, as long as they contained less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, the primary intoxicant in marijuana. But this legal threshold did not apply to delta-8 THC, an intoxicating cousin of delta-9. As a result, delta-8 products have been widely sold in the state in various forms and in doses high enough to pose health risks, Edelson said.

The new law’s milligram requirements apply to any form of THC, limiting the market for delta-8 while legalizing the sale and purchase of traditional delta-9 THC edibles and beverages.

“Our goal was to bring some clarity and certainty to the market for these products, and in doing so, we ended up creating a safe harbor, essentially, for the sale of edibles and beverages containing 0.3% THC and up to five milligrams, which is very close to what we would have in a legalized market for these types of products,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

Phillips said the legalization of THC edibles was not done at the request of the Pharmacy Board. But board staff did not object to the 5-milligram and 50-milligram limits because “products containing much higher amounts of delta-8 were being sold due to ambiguities in existing law,” Phillips said.

Republican Senator Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, said she was disappointed the Pharmacy Board had not realized the full impact of the law sooner.

But Benson, who served on the conference committee that approved the bill, dodged repeated questions about whether she herself understood the law would legalize THC edibles in a text exchange with the Star Tribune.

In a statement, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller touted the new law as regulating the hemp products industry and enacting safeguards to keep them away from children.

CBD and THC products must be clearly labeled and sold only to people 21 or older under the new law. Edibles and beverages must be in child-resistant and tamper-evident packaging, have clearly defined portions, and be labeled “Keep this product out of reach of children.”

Miller’s statement, however, did not specify whether the Senate intended for the law to authorize the marketing of new THC products.

Sen. Jim Abeler, an Anoka Republican who chairs the Senate Finance and Human Services Reform Policy Committee, told the Star Tribune he didn’t realize the new law would legalize edibles. containing any type of THC before its adoption. He thought this would only regulate delta-8 THC products.

Abeler said the Legislature should consider rolling back the new law, but Winkler said Democrats have no interest in doing so. House Democrats support full legalization of recreational marijuana while Senate Republicans oppose it.

The law places no limits on the number of CBD and THC products that can be purchased, and does not regulate who can make or sell them. The Pharmacy Board released guidance on Thursday to answer common questions about the new law.

“At this time, no agency licenses manufacturing or retail businesses,” Phillips said.

The Pharmacy Board employs 23 people and doesn’t have the resources to inspect all new products, so it will rely on complaints submitted by consumers, Phillips said. The council also does not have a lab to test hemp-derived THC products, but Phillips said the council is working to create one.

She called on the Legislature to consider a state cannabis management office to oversee all things cannabis. The Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Agriculture currently share oversight of industrial hemp and hemp-derived products, while Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is housed within the Department of Health.

Edelson admitted that the new law “opens the floodgates” for THC-infused products to hit the market. She said state lawmakers need to pass more specific regulations at their next meeting at the state Capitol.

At the Nothing But Hemp store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul on Friday, a few dozen customers lined up outside the door, eagerly waiting to purchase new THC-infused edibles.

As Dylan and Lindsey Crepps of St. Paul waited, they wondered if the new law might lead to the full legalization of recreational marijuana in Minnesota.

“It’s the front door, isn’t it?” said Lindsey Crepps. “I mean, if you’re selling edibles, THC, delta-9, you’re basically selling real flower. So what’s the difference, you know what I mean?”

“It’s kind of like small steps towards something that will inevitably happen sooner or later,” said Dylan Crepps. “It’s widely available anyway.”

Writer Katelyn Vue contributed to this story.

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