Minnesota is still trucking along with building up its cannabis team. Star Tribune recently interviewed Charlene Briner, who explained the current status and challenges of the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). “I am here for a little longer than anybody had planned, at least through the early part of 2024,” Briner told Star Tribune. “I think the governor is evaluating next steps.” She added that she’s under contract with the state until Feb. 15, 2024, but hopes to hire nine key administrators for OCMby the end of 2023 or early January 2024.
Recently, Briner explained that the Minnesota Department of Health hired inspectors specifically to keep an eye on hemp-derived businesses and products. Additionally, the Department of Agriculture is helping the Department of Health on compliance enforcement, and many government employees have been reassigned to assist with compliance as well, with an expected total of 120 employees to bolster cannabis management. “There’s a lot of work happening behind the scenes keeping us on track for a successful launch in 2025,” said Briner.
Briner ended her interview by confirming that the deadline is still realistic, and that the application window for cannabis business owners to apply for a license could possibly begin by the last quarter of 2024. “What we have learned is that this is an ambitious timeline, but we are committed to meeting it and there’s a lot of work to be done,” Briner concluded.
The previous OCM director Erin DuPree’s appointment was announced on Sept. 21, 2023. On Sept. 22, allegations arose that she owned a hemp cannabis company (Loonacy Cannabis Co., which she founded in July 2022) but that she sold illegal or unregulated hemp products. That same day she said she “would not be going forward” with her appointment.
Gov. Tim Walz originally described DuPree as a star candidate, saying “she has managed multiple aspects of the business and led continued research on hemp-derived and cannabis products while maintaining compliance with state laws and regulations,” Walz said. “With direct experience in Minnesota’s hemp and cannabis industry and over 20 years of success in launching, managing, and growing businesses and organizations, Erin DuPree is an outstanding choice to lead the Office of Cannabis Management.”
DuPree responded to her appointment with optimism, stating that her first goal was to start hiring more people to build up the team. It appears that an OCM director wasn’t needed for that to happen, according to Briner’s interview statements. The Star Tribune reported that Walz has not interviewed anyone for the director position yet.
Minnesota was the 23rd state to legalize recreational cannabis on May 2, 2023, when Walz signed the bill into law. In a speech, Walz explained the failed War on Drugs and the need for change. “We’ve known for too long that prohibiting the use of cannabis hasn’t worked. By legalizing adult-use cannabis, we’re expanding our economy, creating jobs, and regulating the industry to keep Minnesotans safe,” Walz said. “Legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging or resentencing cannabis convictions will strengthen communities. This is the right move for Minnesota.”
The law allows residents to possess 32 ounces of cannabis at home (about 2 pounds), and grow up to four plants. While in public, they can legally possess up to two ounces at a time, while other states such as California, Washington, and Nevada only allow one ounce of cannabis at home, and Colorado limits home possession to one ounce. “The vast majority of adult use states that allow home cultivation don’t have any explicit limit,” says NORML Political Director Morgan Fox. “And most of them explicitly say that you can keep whatever you grow in your own home. There are four states aside from Minnesota that actually have set limits. Massachusetts has 10 ounces, Michigan has 10 ounces, Oregon is eight ounces and New York is 5 pounds.”
Recent analysis by Vicente LLP shows that Minnesota’s cannabis industry could reach up to $1.5 billion in value by 2029, selling to an estimated 650,000 adult-use cannabis and medical cannabis consumers across the state every year.
Although it’s going to take time to get the state’s cannabis program up and running, the Minnesota-based Native American Red Lake Nation Tribe quickly set up sales that began on August 1, making it the first dispensary in the state. “We see this as a resource not only to reduce harm, but to also bring in resources to help our people recover,” said Sam Strong, Red Lake Nation’s tribal secretary. While alcohol isn’t allowed on tribal land, the tribe already has plans to provide medical cannabis as well to offer tribe members.
Last month, the University of Minnesota (UM) announced the launch of its Cannabis Research center, which is funded by the cannabis legalization bill signed by Walz in May. “I am excited for the opportunity to lead the Cannabis Research Center and, alongside my colleagues at the School of Public Health, to conduct innovative research on the health effects of adult-use cannabis legalization on people and communities across the state, including prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, equity issues, education and decriminalization,” said UM professor Traci Toomey. The goal is to provide research that can serve as evidence for policymakers to make informed decisions about cannabis legislation.
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