Minnesota Accidentally Legalizes Weed, Forgets To Tax It, Can’t Find Car

As Colorado and Washington and other states have proved, you can legalize the Devil’s Weed, make sure it’s regulated to make sure the business is safe and orderly, and bring in assloads of new tax revenue. It’s a pretty common model by now, and if the legislation’s written and rolled out thoughtfully, legalizing weed can even include reforms that address the awful racial sentencing disparities of the prohibition era.

Or you could do it like Minnesota just did: Haphazardly and pretty much at the last minute, by throwing the legalization into a pile of amendments to a must-pass omnibus health bill at the end of the legislative session back in May. The law went into effect yesterday, allowing the sale of food and beverages with up to 5 milligrams of THC, maximum of 50 mg per package. The THC must be derived from hemp, which is already legal in the state, rather than from marijuana plants, which remain illegal for now.

We’ll summarize the story a bit for you below; the gory details are covered in this piece by nonprofit journalism collective Minnesota Reformer, and also in this subscriber-only Star-Tribune story. Here’s short version: A Democratic lawmaker wanted to bring some regulations to bear on the proliferating gray market a cannabinoid variety called “delta-8.” To accomplish that, she wrote legislation that also legalized and placed regulations on THC, the active ingredient in your weed and your weed byproducts.

As the Reformer’s J. Patrick Coolican explains, state Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL — goofy Minnesota Democrats!) first set out to work with the state’s Board of Pharmacy and Agriculture Department to do something about the proliferation of delta-8, which is made from cannabidiol (CBD) that’s derived from hemp. Both hemp and CBD are legal in Minnesota. Problem is, delta-8 products started showing up all over, in all sorts of concentrations, because “unregulated” will do that.

I started seeing it in tobacco shops and dodgier gas stations. It gave me real bath salts vibes.

“It was super different depending on where you got it,” a friend who tried delta-8 told me. “Some kinds were kind of like cheap weed, some kinds were super terrible and anxiety and paranoia provoking.” […]

Edelson told me the delta-8 market is out of control — they have been targeting kids, making the products look like candy, even selling high-potency breakfast cereals. Calls to poison control centers were rapidly rising.

Edelson got together with Republican state Sen. Mark Koran, and they wrote up regulations for the sale of cannabinoids derived from hemp, which include delta-8 and good old delta-9 THC, like you’d find in edibles sold in states that actually planned to legalize weed.

And somehow, Republican Senators, who have consistently blocked any efforts to legalize the gentle bud, didn’t quite realize that’s what they were voting to do.

After the amendment passed on a unanimous voice vote, here’s state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka: “That doesn’t legalize marijuana — we didn’t just do that.”

He chuckled.

His DFL co-chair, Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester replied, “Oh, are you kidding? Of course you have. No, just kidding. We’ll do that next, OK?”

Except she wasn’t joking. That was the practical effect, although it didn’t include the leafy stuff. Maybe next year.

As the Star-Tribune explains,

The new law’s milligram requirements apply to any form of THC, reining in the delta-8 market while also allowing the sale and purchase of traditional THC edibles and beverages.

Starting Friday, CBD and THC products must be clearly labeled and sold only to those 21 or older. Edibles must be in child-proof and tamper-evident packages, have clearly defined serving sizes and carry the label, “Keep this product out of reach of children.”

Edelson told the Star-Tribune that her goal was to improve “consumer protections,” but she also acknowledged that it’s a partial opening to legalized weed. “There was no mystery about what we were doing here.”

Or maybe there was, a little; state Sen. Abeler tole the Star-Tribune he’d been under the impression they were only placing regulations on delta-8 products.

“I thought we were doing a technical fix, and it winded up having a broader impact than I expected,” Abeler said, adding that the Legislature should consider rolling the new law back.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and the Democratic-controlled state House aren’t likely to go for that, what with their public support for actual weed legalization. The House passed a bipartisan bill to legalize recreational marijuana in 2021, but it was killed in the Senate.

Orderly legalization would probably be a really good idea for the next legislative session, given the gaping holes in the legislation that actually passed. There’s no regulation of who can sell the new legal THC products there isn’t even a license to apply for. The state Board of Pharmacy will have responsibility for regulating it, although the agency wasn’t prepared for the new responsibilities — its job is regulating licensed pharmacies.

(Also, if we may digress, good on Minnesota for the agency actually regulating what’s in its name. If it were Texas, the Board of Pharmacies would probably end up regulating railroads, since the “Railroad Commission” actually regulates the oil and gas bidniss.)

Also, the new law legalized THC-infused products without taxing them beyond regular sales taxes, which is certainly nice for consumers, but misses out on one of the usual reasons states legalize weed in the first place.

As Coolican points out, Minnesota “traded unregulated delta-8 for a lightly regulated delta-8 and delta-9,” which he’s concerned is likely to

lead to gross excesses. And then we’ll see a bunch of alarmist media coverage — you can just picture the TV news stories — right before the November election, about some dunderhead who left an open package of edibles on a counter, and a kid ate the whole thing and thought he was Spiderman and wound up in the emergency room.

And then there’ll be a backlash, and we’ll go back to prohibition.

Seems like a realistic scenario.

We’d also expect that if enough Republicans in the Senate feel dazed and confused by the clever way THC legalization was passed, that could mean trouble next time the House passes another real legalization bill. Also, Edelson plans to introduce a bill next year with fixes to the current law, like setting up a new agency to regulate cannabis. You’d think Republicans would want to make the law better and limit the potential problems, but then, being Republicans, they might prefer to have a tantrum instead.

Good luck, Minnesota! May your Tacos Bell thrive with all the new business. Also, I think “J. Patrick Coolican” would be an awesome name for a cat, or maybe a parrot.

[Minnesota Reformer / Minneapolis Star-Tribune (paywall)]

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