A cannabis industry entrepreneur who hasn't worked in government before will be the inaugural director of Minnesota's new cannabis agency, Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday.
Erin DuPree, a longtime consultant for startup businesses who founded Loonacy Cannabis Co. in Apple Valley, will lead the Office of Cannabis Management. She will be charged with filling out the office's staff and overseeing the creation of Minnesota's recreational marijuana market.
"It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm really excited to be able to serve my state and my community with the knowledge that I have," DuPree said in an interview. "I have a unique skill-set as an entrepreneur and specializing really in startup businesses. And that's kind of what this is."
She will start Oct. 2, according to the governor's office, and her salary will be $151,505.
Walz praised DuPree as a "proven and effective leader" in a statement.
"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," Walz said.
DuPree said she will close her hemp-derived cannabis business, Loonacy, this weekend before she starts as director. Minnesota's marijuana law prohibits the Office of Cannabis Management director from holding a direct or indirect stake in a cannabis business.
DuPree has worked with companies in multiple states, she said, including some that already legalized marijuana. She has led research on cannabis products while complying with state laws and regulations, according to background information provided by the governor's office.
For the past 15 years, DuPree has held trainings and seminars on business structure and strategy as a volunteer for Business Network International, the governor's office said.
On her LinkedIn profile, DuPree wrote that she's used cannabis since 2015 to relieve her autoimmune disease symptoms. During a virtual news conference Thursday morning, DuPree said she wasn't a registered medical cannabis patient.
"No, I do not have a medical card in this state. And that's really all I'm going to say about that. This isn't about me," she said.
Around 150 people applied to be the new office's director, a spokeswoman for the governor said.
"Erin emerged early as a leading candidate as we considered a wide range of qualified individuals for this important new leadership role," said Charlene Briner, who led the search and has been in charge of early implementation work at the new office. "Her experience, credibility, and passion for ensuring the success of Minnesota's new cannabis industry made her a standout among an extraordinary pool of talented candidates."
The Office of Cannabis Management led by DuPree will license marijuana and hemp businesses and regulate the recreational, medical and hemp-derived cannabis industries. Much of that work will happen over the next two years as Minnesota sets up its commercial marijuana market.
DuPree's first order of business is hiring top staff to help her build up the new agency. She said during the virtual news conference that the office will need "about 150 people to be able to make this run correctly."
She isn't daunted by the task of leading a new state agency despite never having worked in government before.
"I'm a curious person in general. I love to learn and I'm very coachable," DuPree said. "I think that's actually one of my strengths here. I don't come with any baggage. I come with a very open mind, and I'm very ready and willing to work within all aspects of the government."
Leili Fatehi, partner and principal at the strategic cannabis consulting firm Blunt Strategies, worked closely with lawmakers as they passed Minnesota's marijuana law. Fatehi called the appointment of DuPree "an intriguing one, especially considering the unique challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Minnesota's cannabis industry and the significant scale of the rulemaking that needs to take place.
"While the Governor's selection may not have government experience or deep ties to the local cannabis industry and advocacy communities, this appointment highlights the essential role that organizations like the Minnesota Cannabis Resource Center and the Minnesota Cannabis Growers Cooperative & Industry Council play in shaping a responsible and equitable cannabis landscape in our state," Fatehi said in a statement.
DuPree said she is committed to ensuring that Minnesota's marijuana market becomes a "craft industry" that prioritizes small local businesses and to avoiding mistakes other states have made.
"Being the 23rd state that's legalized, we are lucky. We get to look back on the other 22 states and we know what works and what didn't work," DuPree said. "So, we don't have to reinvent the wheel."