Minnesota is still without a permanent cannabis director more than two months after Gov. Tim Walz's first pick for the job resigned under scrutiny.
Walz first named cannabis entrepreneur Erin DuPree as director of Minnesota's new Office of Cannabis Management in late September, but she resigned a day after she was appointed amid reports that she sold illegal products at her hemp store.
The governor pledged afterwards to hire a seasoned regulator for the job. Walz hasn't interviewed any candidates since, according to his public schedules. He said earlier this month that other positions are being filled in the Office of Cannabis Management but didn't share a timeline for hiring a director.
"We're looking, I think, nationally a little bit more to see how that goes," Walz said.
Whoever leads the Office of Cannabis Management will oversee the creation and regulation of the state's recreational marijuana industry. That work is being led on an interim basis by state government veteran Charlene Briner, who's under contract with the state through Feb. 15, according to data obtained by the Star Tribune.
"I am here for a little longer than anybody had planned, at least through the early part of 2024," Briner said in an interview Monday. "I think the governor is evaluating next steps."
The work of setting up the new state office and writing rules that will govern the marijuana industry remains underway.
Briner said she hopes to make nine key administrative hires in the next few weeks and have them start by the end of the year or early January. Another round of office positions will soon be posted, she said.
The Department of Health recently added inspectors to monitor businesses selling hemp-derived cannabis products, Briner said, and staff from the Department of Agriculture are assisting the Health Department with its compliance and enforcement efforts.
Additionally, about two dozen state employees have been reassigned from various agencies to help with the Office of Cannabis Management's rule making and operations, among other things.
By this spring, Briner said she hopes to have about a quarter of the office's 120 employees in place.
"There's a lot of work happening behind the scenes keeping us on track for a successful launch in 2025," Briner said.
The state's goal of opening retail dispensaries by early 2025 remains realistic as of now, she said. If the rule-making process goes smoothly, Briner said the state could begin accepting license applications from aspiring cannabis business owners by the final quarter of 2024.
"What we have learned is that this is an ambitious timeline, but we are committed to meeting it and there's a lot of work to be done," Briner said.
Star Tribune staff writers Emma Nelson and Matt DeLong contributed to this story.