New Minnesota Bill Would Clarify Rules On Serving Alcohol And THC Drinks At Bars And Restaurants

New Minnesota Bill Would Clarify Rules On Serving Alcohol And THC Drinks At Bars And Restaurants

“It gets to what we needed to do. To make sure THC drinks are treated the same way as intoxicating beverages are treated.”

By Peter Callaghan, MinnPost

The law was confusing enough—and troubling enough—that some bars and restaurants decided it was safer to keep hemp-derived beverages off the menu.

At issue was a provision in the state’s recreational marijuana law signed last May that would have prohibited bar servers from selling a patron alcohol and THC beverages in the same five-hour period.

The first confusion was over when bars would start enforcing the “five-hour rule.” Some thought immediately after the bill’s passage, but the myriad effectiveness dates contained in the 300-page bill said it wasn’t to become law until spring 2025. Regardless, the larger issue was this: While a server might know that a patron who they’d served a beer to couldn’t then be served a THC-seltzer, they would have no way of knowing if other patrons had one or the other at another bar.

So to be safe, some bars and restaurants chose not to sell both, which wasn’t the best result for the breweries and cideries that have jumped into the new hemp-derived beverage market.

Now comes House File 4029, a one-sentence bill by Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) that attempts to get at one of the reasons for the five-hour rule but without the side-effects. “No person may sell, give, furnish, or in any way procure for another lower-potency hemp edibles for the use of an obviously impaired person.”

A companion bill has been introduced by Sen. Robert Kupec (DFL-Moorhead).

That sentence in the bill is similar to what is already in state law regarding alcohol. Sometimes called “dram shop” laws, they make it a crime to serve people who appear to be intoxicated. There are also civil liability concerns, since bar owners and their employees can be sued if a patron is overserved and hurts someone after leaving the bar.

Applying dram shop laws to hemp and marijuana have led some to use the pun “gram shop” laws.

Tabke said he heard about the issue from the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s just an untenable provision to enforce, to have clear guidelines for how people do the work,” Tabke said. “It gets to what we needed to do. To make sure THC drinks are treated the same way as intoxicating beverages are treated.”

Tabke said his bill will need to be amended to repeal the language in last year’s law that established the five-hour rule. The current law says it will be illegal to “sell lower-potency hemp edibles to a customer who the lower-potency hemp edible retailer knows or reasonably should know is intoxicated or has consumed alcohol within the previous five hours.”

“We’ll get that fixed as we get closer to a hearing,” he said. “It’s important that we have laws that are workable in the real world.”

Tony Chesak is the executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association that represents liquor stores, restaurants and bars. He said some of his members have chosen not to sell THC beverages, partly out of the confusion bred by the law. He said there is no way for servers to know what someone has done in other bars, but they are trained to detect when a patron has had too many of any beverage.

“If I’m in Brainerd and I have a beer with ‘Dutch’ Cragun over at Cragun’s and then I head back to Minneapolis and go to see Tim Mahoney at the Loon Cafe, it would be difficult for Tim to know that three-and-a-half hours earlier I had one beer in Brainerd,” Chesak said. Using the law regarding overservice of alcohol and the training many bartenders and servers have to spot inebriation seemed like a better pathway.

The MLBA offers both an online training class and in-person training if requested by bars and restaurants, he said.

Because of the different effectiveness dates in the recreational marijuana law, it is currently legal to serve both types of beverages to the same person. But there remains confusion, said Bob Galligan, the government affairs director for the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, which has impacted sales.

“I understand the spirit of the five-hour rule, but at the end of the day there’s just no way to keep track of who has consumed what beverage over the course of time,” Galligan said. “Who knows what someone has had before they walk through your doors? We don’t want to make bartenders do something that is literally impossible.”

The best way to know if someone is violating the rule is if they act intoxicated and “this bill just says you can’t serve someone who’s inebriated.”

Galligan said he has not heard of any issues from brewers guild members about customers having bad effects that could be the result of combining alcohol and THC edibles or beverages.

Overservice wasn’t the only worry of bill sponsors. Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) said last year he was concerned about how combining alcohol and THC-drinks has a different effect on drinkers than those who consume the same number of drinks of one or the other. Sometimes called crossfading, the mixing of the two intoxicants can intensify the effects of both.

“We were trying to solve a problem, which is that there is pretty good evidence that the effects of THC and alcohol together are much stronger than either individually,” Stephenson, the prime sponsor of House File 100 that legalized and regulated cannabis, told a forum last fall. He said he was particularly concerned with how it could affect someone’s ability to safely drive a vehicle.

However, Stephenson agrees with the fix proposed by Tabke. Sen. Lindsey Port, the DFLer from Burnsville who was legalization’s prime sponsor in the Senate, is one of the cosponsors of the bill to change the five-hour rule.

This story was first published by MinnPost.

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