Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. July 9, 2022.

Editorial: More work needed on cannabis law

Minnesota’s 2022 edibles legislation was a starting point, but regulatory improvements are critical.

Indeed Brewing is a metro mecca for beer. But later this summer, customers can expect a new, nonalcoholic choice still capable of delivering a bit of a buzz.

The plan is to call the lavender- and lemon-flavored sparkling beverage “Two Good,” a word-play reference to the active ingredients in it: 2 milligrams of cannabidiol (CBD) and 2 mgs of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Astute readers will recognize that last one, THC, as the psychoactive chemical that produces marijuana’s high. Thanks to Minnesota lawmakers, food and beverages containing 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving, or 50 milligrams per package, are newly legal in the state as of July 1.

Indeed CEO Tom Whisenand sees opportunity. “It’s creating a beverage for sort of a segment we see in our world, which is people who just want to mildly chill out,” he said. “This isn’t the 20-milligram edible that’s going to make you just want to eat ice cream and lay on the couch.”

But Whisenand’s enthusiasm is also tempered by frustrations, and legislators should pay attention. Businesses usually push for less oversight. Yet this week, an Indeed news release said the brewery’s efforts to make a THC seltzer are complicated by not having “much regulation to work off of.”

That’s right. The state needs a more robust regulatory framework to protect consumers and guide businesses. The 2022 measure is just a starting point, a reality underscored by the continuing commotion over whether Minnesota lawmakers realized they had legalized edibles or not.

Despite lawmakers’ confusion, the edibles measure contains sensible safeguards. It set the legal purchasing age at 21 and established low limits for THC content. The legislation includes reasonable requirements for testing and child-resistant packaging.

But key improvements are in order and include:

— Setting up a dedicated state oversight agency. It feels like a game of “hot potato” is going on between agencies that share responsibility, and that’s not optimal for businesses or consumers. This board should have adequate resources for staffing and enforcement.

— Licensing retailers and manufacturers. That would help ensure that products are sourced responsibly, safe to use and sold only to adults. Dollars generated by licensing fees could fund the new oversight board.

Local governments should also consider their own frameworks with the 2023 legislative session still months away. St. Paul, Stillwater, St. Louis Park, Edina, Golden Valley and Bloomington are considering this, the Star Tribune reported.

Last month, the Star Tribune Editorial Board explored the consumer health implications of the new law. The board pointed out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has warned, “there are health risks associated with using marijuana regardless of how it is used.”

The results of Minnesota’s edibles experiment should be tracked and inform the inevitable debate over broader recreational marijuana use here. “As of May 27, 2022, 19 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted measures to regulate cannabis for adult non-medical use,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A Republican legislator proposed rolling back the state’s edibles measure after controversy erupted. That’s problematic.

Businesses such as Indeed are already investing in new products like Two Good. A rollback also wouldn’t reflect public sentiment. “From 2000 to 2019, the share of Americans saying marijuana should be legal more than doubled,” according to a 2021 Pew Research Center poll. Sixty percent of those surveyed favored medical and recreational marijuana use.

Clear and enforced regulations will help ensure that consumers who use products like these get them from reputable businesses instead of illegal dealers.

As further steps are considered, it’s worth considering what Colorado, which has a mature regulatory framework, has done. Voters there passed an amendment legalizing marijuana for adults in November 2012.

The state has a dedicated oversight agency, the Marijuana Enforcement Division, which has 153 full-time employees. Duties include licensing businesses and doing compliance checks, for example to guard against underage customers. The products there also are subject to a “state sales tax (2.9%) on marijuana sold in stores, the state retail marijuana sales tax (15%) on retail marijuana sold in stores, and the state retail marijuana excise tax (15%) on wholesale sales/transfers of retail marijuana.”

Regulating edibles and related products is complex. It’s disappointing that Minnesota House DFL Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said this week that work on the 2022 measure was done quietly to improve its chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. That’s not how the best public policy is crafted.

Improvements to the law are needed, and clear communication about them is essential.

END