With a new law enacted on July 1st legalizing certain THC edibles in Minnesota, here’s what the legislation really means.
A new Minnesota statute, enacted this past July, implemented particular guidelines around hemp-derived edible cannabinoid products. With its passage, a seeming flood of new THC-edible products became available across the state. But are these products new?
The short answer is no. So why the confusion? Much of it comes down to media coverage and the misconceptions created by that exposure. For starters, THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana plants, has been legal in many states – including states without legalized recreational marijuana, like Minnesota – since the 2018 Farm Bill went into effect.
The legislation, which went into effect in 2019, removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. It further defined hemp as a plant containing no more than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC, the more standard version of the psychoactive substance in cannabis.
Many people don't understand that hemp and marijuana are different plants that both produce the Delta-9 THC variant.
Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who helped pass the law, explains, "THC is basically a chemical compound. The Delta-9 variation of THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high effect. THC Delta-9 can also be derived from hemp, a plant different from the marijuana plant but comes from the cannabinoid family. So essentially, you get the same chemical through a different process, not using marijuana, in a much lower concentrated form that can be processed and sold as THC."
"THC is basically a chemical compound. The Delta-9 variation of THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the high effect. THC Delta-9 can also be derived from hemp, a plant different from the marijuana plant but comes from the cannabinoid family. So essentially, you get the same chemical through a different process, not using marijuana, in a much lower concentrated form that can be processed and sold as THC."
- Ryan Winkler, MN House Majority Leader
Essentially, what distinguishes the two plants is that hemp contains 0.3% or less Delta-9, while marijuana contains more than that legally allowed percentage.
Before the passage of the new Minnesota statute, edible products derived from hemp and containing the 0.3% or less THC requirement were already being sold at dispensaries across the state. One of those is Nothing But Hemp, run by owner Steven Brown. According to Brown, much of the disarray experienced since the law went into effect is because "no one's been covering it properly, and it's really heart-wrenching."
"No one's been covering it properly, and it's really heart-wrenching."
- Steven Brown, Owner of Nothing But Hemp
The new law essentially clarifies and imposes specific limits on the form and serving sizes allowed for sale. For example, hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products can only be sold as food or drink and are restricted to five milligrams per serving and 50 milligrams per package. The offerings must also be in childproof packages and are prohibited from looking candy-like or appealing to children. And they can only be sold to individuals 21 years and older.
As Brown further explains, "The difference is in the number of milligrams allowed to be sold We used to have 10 mg. chocolate bars that were Delta-9 under 0.3%, and now those same ones are five mg."
The idea that these repackaging requirements are somehow "new products" has caused panic among certain municipalities within the state, prompting many to take regulation of the existing marketplace into their own control. And Brown believes this is causing undo harm to many law-abiding small businesses who've done nothing except comply with the new regulations.
According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, cities, including St. Joseph and Marshall, have temporarily banned THC products through moratoriums. Similar regulations and restrictions were implemented in St. Cloud and Le Sueur County.
The media's reporting has produced a spike in awareness of these products, leading to increased interest among Minnesotans. And as a result, a political domino effect of fear and misunderstanding has led to banning products that were already perfectly legal to sell and consume before the law's passage.
Companies that sell hemp-derived THC products are very limited in their ability to advertise their products. As Brown shares, regarding his business, "We can't advertise like a normal business. We can't buy Facebook ads and can't purchase billboards in the same way other businesses can. We can't even use text message marketing anymore."
So the coverage has amounted to free, and otherwise unavailable, advertising, which would typically be a good thing, except that now businesses who already face a tremendous amount of regulation and scrutiny are being essentially punished for doing the right thing.
For Brown and others advocating for intelligent and fair THC legislation and enforcement, the solution lies in creating a uniform licensing structure in the state and implementing a more robust oversight structure.
Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Jill Phillips, whose staff of 23 is charged with oversight of hemp-derived THC products, underscores the need for a better system by sharing, "the board lacks expertise and experience with this industry, yet has been tasked with interpretation, education, and enforcement of the new statute."
"The board lacks expertise and experience with this industry, yet has been tasked with interpretation, education, and enforcement of the new statute."
- Executive Director Jill Phillips, MN Board of Pharmacy
Jason Tarasek, a cannabis attorney with Minnesota Cannabis Law, who lobbied for this year's legislation, suggests, "We need a board of cannabis management. We can't push this off onto somebody who doesn't have experience with this."
"We need a board of cannabis management. We can't push this off onto somebody who doesn't have experience with this."
- Attorney Jason Tarasek, MN Cannabis Law
The central takeaway from all parties invested in the future of THC in Minnesota is that additional legislation is necessary to fill the gaps in the current law, including product taxation, adequate funding for additional infrastructure to support the new industry, and licensing.
But there must also be education initiatives put in place to accurately inform the public and media on precisely what this law means and for future legislation down the road. The repercussions are too significant just to let slide by and overwhelm the small businesses that make up the backbone of this burgeoning new industry.