Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
While other states have moved swiftly toward legalizing recreational marijuana use, Minnesota will soon take a more cautious though still historic step to allow wider use of products containing THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
Beginning July 1, it will be explicitly legal to sell edibles and beverages containing limited amounts of THC derived from hemp — one variety of cannabis plant — to those age 21 or over who are not eligible for the state's medical marijuana program. In other words, adults who want to try these products for the same reasons they might have an alcoholic drink — relaxing after a long day, for example.
Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday signed a bill that authorizes the cannabinoid reforms. Products containing THC appeared on store shelves in Minnesota in 2016 based on a dubious legal interpretation of federal and state action pertaining to industrial hemp. Sales expanded in 2019 after similar action allowed for the sale of non-intoxicating products derived from hemp — meaning less than 0.3% of a type of THC called "Delta 9." But a 2021 court ruling cast new and serious doubt about the legality of products with any level of THC.
The legal clarity provided by the Legislature is timely and includes consumer protections. Nevertheless, caution is still critical.
"If it's strong enough to have a beneficial effect, it's strong enough to have potentially significant side effects. Just because something is legal does not mean it cannot cause you problems,'' said Cody Wiberg, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy's emeritus executive director.
The Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) — which represents more than 12,000 state doctors, residents and medical students — did not take a position on the legislation. But along with the leading public health agencies, this organization has raised strong concerns about the potential for negative health effects.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "there are health risks associated with using marijuana regardless of how it is used." Among them:
- Harmful effects on developing brains in children and adolescents.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure during use.
- Impaired coordination and judgment, a particular risk when driving.
- The link between THC and social anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
- And poisoning, particularly in children.
"Food and drink products infused with marijuana have some different risks than smoked marijuana," the CDC said. "Since marijuana use has been legalized in some states, unintentional poisonings in children have increased, with some instances requiring emergency medical care."
In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sounded the alarm about products containing "Delta 8" THC. This is "one of over 100 cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant" and may be in newer products. It received 104 adverse events linked to its use between December 2020 and Feb. 28 of this year. Two-thirds of these cases involved edible products, and 55% required medical intervention. Symptoms included hallucinations, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
The new Minnesota legal framework contains sensible safeguards. Requirements include testing, child-resistant packaging, and a warning about keeping these products, which can resemble candy, out of reach of children.
Another smart change is limiting all types of THC in edible products to 5 milligrams (mg) per serving, or 50 mg in a package. This makes it clear that these caps apply to Delta 8 and other newer forms of THC.
The new 5/50 mg limits are roughly half the standard dose "found in recreational marijuana products in other states," according to a recent Star Tribune story. While that may not strongly affect experienced users, so-called "naive" users will likely feel it, said the Board of Pharmacy's Wiberg.
Those who plan to use these products to treat a health concern should speak with their medical provider first. Buying from a reputable retailer is also key. The Minnesota reforms should spur consumers to purchase responsibly from stores following the new laws instead of going through less reliable channels.
Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune Publisher and CEO Michael J. Klingensmith serves as an adviser to the board.