Local businesses, lawmakers discuss the highs and lows of a new state law legalizing THC

Andrews and Thompson have added reason to want more specificity from the law — both have edibles brands of their own, Melting Clock Gummies and THC Joint, respectively. Their products follow current regulations; edibles are third-party tested and come in childproof packaging designed not to appeal to minors. 

There has been legal ambiguity regarding certain THC edibles since the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which changed the definition of legal hemp (the agricultural crop). Hemp is the same plant that produces marijuana — hemp is harvested earlier. The farm bill put restrictions on Delta 9, a way of deriving THC from hemp, but not others, like Delta 8. Since the law was silent on Delta 8, buyers and sellers proceeded as though it was legal, without restrictions or regulations on packaging or THC content. The Minnesota law addresses that silence on Delta 8 products. 

“When they changed the law, it actually negatively affected me. It’s kind of funny because everybody’s been congratulating me like it’s been a big win,” laughs Thompson, whose shop was left holding an unsellable stock of higher milligram Delta 8 edibles after the law was enacted. Minnesota’s law halved the allowed THC content per edible from the industry standard of 10mg. 

The state’s regulation of THC products seems to have garnered more attention than the tacit legalization of Delta 8 products of the farm bill, though. 

“One thing that we have noticed is that there’s a lot of first time users. ‘Oh, it’s legal now. Well, I’m going to try it.’” says Andrews. “A lot of people are trying it for the first time. And that’s more than made up for the loss of the Delta 8 products.”

Still, unsellable inventory was a potential hardship shops had little time to prepare for, given the sudden nature of the legislation. 

“Unfortunately, all this was right at the end of session. So there weren’t those hearings that would have fleshed out a lot of this,” says Republican State Sen. Carla Nelson. “There’s nothing that replaces full disclosure, full information, making sure people are not surprised. And this was a surprise, in a sense.… I think there’s going to be a lot of discussion this year, even the author of the bill in the House was very clear about that. There’s more work to do. And there needs to be full transparency, full public engagement.” 

How did we get here?

“I never viewed [the legislation passed in May] as legalizing cannabis at all because these substances, hemp-derived THC, was already being sold. It was being sold legally, but in kind of a gray area,” says DFL State Rep. Liebling, a longtime advocate for legalizing cannabis. The law was meant to provide legal clarity. 

According to Nelson, the bill was an agreement between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Board of Pharmacy. Its passage has become somewhat infamous.

On May 19, during a conference committee on the omnibus health and human services bill, the amendment “exempting cannabinoids derived from hemp from Schedule 1 of the controlled substances schedule” passed unanimously by voice vote. 

After its passage, Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka now famously said — “That doesn’t legalize marijuana — we didn’t just do that.”

Liebling responded, “Oh, are you kidding? Of course you have. No, just kidding. We’ll do that next, OK?”

That exchange, viewable on YouTube, plus later comments to the press by Sen. Abler, led to the passage of the bill to be deemed “accidental.” (Sen. Abler told Star Tribune reporter Ryan Faircloth that he believed the law would only regulate THC edibles, not legalize them. He has said he’d like to roll back the law.) 

Liebling thought Abler was joking. “He does that — he jokes around. It just seemed like he was, you know, joking. So I answered in kind,” says Rep. Liebling. “I was just surprised that he, later on, didn’t know what he had been doing.”

City seeks clarity

Several cities around the state have enacted their own restrictions. Rochester is still weighing its options. 

According to city spokesperson Jenna Bowman, city staff are working with the League of Minnesota Cities to look at legislative policy ideas and regulatory templates. They are examining best practices for whether or not to regulate edible cannabinoids products beyond state regulations. 

“The current plan is that City teammates would bring forward feedback to the City Council after gaining better information about the complexity of the issue and have a better sense of how regulation beyond the state statute would impact Rochester,” wrote Bowman.


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