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'Minnesota strongly favors this change': Democrats tout law legalizing THC gummies

Lawmakers that helped push the new rule through the Minnesota Capitol said they were working on fixes around enforcement, next steps to fully legalize marijuana for adult use.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler
Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, right, along with fellow Minnesota lawmakers, marijuana legalization advocates and hemp farmers on Tuesday, July 5, 2022, spoke in support of a state law allowing some THC food and drink products during a news conference in Minneapolis.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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MINNEAPOLIS — Days after Minnesota businesses got the green light to start selling cannabis-infused gummies and other food and drink products, Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators said the new law helped ramp up consumer protections but still needed to be tweaked to help enforce restrictions around the edibles.

And given the positive public response over the weekend to the rollout of the sale of products containing servings of up to 5 milligrams of THC, the lawmakers said the state ought to move forward with a broader plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use for those 21 and older.

"Minnesota strongly favors this change," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said during a news conference Tuesday, July 5, outside of Indeed Brewing Company. "It was an intentional step forward, and it is an opportunity for Minnesota businesses and consumers to have access to a product that can be safe and is widely available and in use today, however, through an illicit marketplace."

The celebratory comments came after a new state law took effect on Friday, July 1, allowing those 21 and older to buy food and drink products that contain up to 5 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive part of cannabis. State law stipulates that consumers can buy packages of hemp-derived THC products, as long as they don't exceed more than 50 milligrams and are not shaped like people, animals or fruit, nor can they be modeled after products marketed to children. Producers of commercially available candy and snacks are also barred from adding THC to existing products.

Hemp and smoke shops around the state saw strong demand for the products as soon as they hit the shelves. And while the businesses were ready to field the demand, some lawmakers and state regulators said they didn't anticipate that the policy would pave the way for access to allowing recreational cannabis products in the state.

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Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, on Friday said the legislation was a bipartisan effort to curb access to delta-8 products for those under the age of 21 and noted that the changes "were absolutely necessary." Miller on Tuesday blasted Democrats for holding the news conference on THC products rather than discussing violence in Minneapolis the night prior.

"While Senate Republicans are focused on making communities safer, Democrats continue to turn a blind eye to violent crime," Miller said. "Republicans will continue to make public safety a priority by putting more good cops on the streets and holding criminals accountable for their actions.”

Both the Senate and the House earlier this year put up hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for law enforcement initiatives around the state but they were unable to reach an agreement that could bring them back to St. Paul to approve a supplemental funding plan.

Other members of Miller's caucus, meanwhile, seemed unaware of the impact the legislation would have when they voted to approve it. Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, told the Star Tribune that he didn't realize at the time he voted for it that the policy would allow additional edible products to be sold in Minnesota. And he said lawmakers should roll back the policy in later sessions.

DFL lawmakers said the public wouldn't support rolling back the policy. But additional enforcement mechanisms should be added to ensure that the products are sold and consumed safely, they said. They said provisions such as creating a cannabis oversight board weren't included in the legislation because they would've spurred opposition in the GOP-led Senate.

"Yes, there are going to be some problems in terms of how we enforce this but I will say that this law makes a very clear step of what is legal. And I think that is a help for the state of Minnesota," the bill's author Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, said Tuesday. Edelson said she was working with the League of Minnesota Cities to write additional guidance around enforcement provisions that she planned to make public later in the week.

Edelson said she brought the legislation to set restrictions around unregulated products that contained delta-8, a derivative of hemp that can cause the sensation of being high. She and Winkler said that while some lawmakers or state agencies voiced surprise about the law and the changes in it, hearings around the proposal were open to the public and supporters were clear about their intent to set clearer parameters for THC and cannabidiol (or CBD) products in the state.

"Sometimes legislation benefits from a lot of publicity, and sometimes legislation benefits from the ability to do the work more quietly," Winkler said. "We just didn't put a spotlight on it for everybody."

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The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is set to regulate the production and sale of cannabis-containing products. Last week, the board issued guidance noting that it wouldn't test or approve the THC products before they go to market.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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