Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Tuesday that he now wants to hire a seasoned regulator instead of someone from the cannabis industry to head the state's new Office of Cannabis Management.
The governor's pledge comes shortly after his first pick for the job, a cannabis business owner, resigned one day after her appointment amid reports that she sold illegal products. Walz took responsibility for the debacle, saying his team got its first pick wrong.
"One of the big things I'm asking for is that we're going to hire a regulator," Walz said. "That was probably where the focus should have been in the beginning. I've learned that lesson now."
Walz's first appointee was Erin DuPree, a self-described cannabis entrepreneur who owned a hemp shop called Loonacy Cannabis Co. in Apple Valley. DuPree was named to the role Sept. 21 and then stepped down the next day after a Star Tribune report first revealed she had sold illegal products at her hemp store.
DuPree had no government experience, and her resume did not appear to match many of the expected qualifications sought for the role. The Walz administration was blindsided by reports of DuPree's illegal product sales, federal liens and past lawsuits filed against her — raising questions of how thoroughly the governor's office vetted her background.
"I think by me focusing our team on finding someone inside the industry, it limited our ability to find maybe the right person," Walz said Tuesday.
Walz added that his team is reviewing its vetting process for improvement.
Candidates who applied to be cannabis director went through multiple interviews with panels of state officials before the pool was narrowed down to a group of finalists.
The finalists were then handed off to the governor's office, which coordinated checks of their backgrounds, references and potential conflicts of interest. After those checks were complete, the finalists interviewed with the governor.
State leaders haven't yet decided whether they will reopen their search for a cannabis director or revisit the roughly 150 previous applicants.
In the meantime, state government veteran Charlene Briner will continue to lead the Office of Cannabis Management as interim director. The agency is about to start a rulemaking process that is required before licenses can be issued to marijuana growers, processors and retailers. Dispensaries are expected to open in early 2025.
"We have an ambitious timeline to stand up the agency to ensure a safe, reliable regulated cannabis industry for Minnesotans, and we are on track to meet it," Briner said in a statement Saturday.
Star Tribune staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this story.