A state law effective Friday that legalizes edibles containing certain amounts of the cannabis ingredient that makes people high apparently took some state regulators and lawmakers by surprise — revealing that some who signed off on the legislation may not have fully understood it.
Minnesotans who are 21 or older can now buy THC-infused edibles and beverages that contain no more than 5 milligrams per serving and 50 milligrams per package. Five milligrams is about half the standard dose in recreational marijuana products in other states.
The head of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, which will have regulatory authority over the new hemp-derived cannabis products, said legalization of THC-infused edibles and beverages was not in the original bill of hemp industry reforms that the board helped craft.
"Some things were changed at the eleventh hour, especially that 5 milligrams and 50 milligrams," said Jill Phillips, executive director of the pharmacy board. "But here we are. It got passed and we are going to do our best to support it."
The new Minnesota products must be derived from legally certified hemp — which contains trace amounts of the psychoactive compound THC — rather than marijuana, which remains illegal. But THC produces the same effect whether it's derived from hemp or marijuana, industry experts say.
Rep. Heather Edelson, an Edina Democrat who sponsored the legislation in the House, refuted Phillips' claim that the bill was altered at the "eleventh hour." Edelson said the milligram dosage language was added to the bill well before the end of the session and noted the House held three committee hearings on the legislation.
"It was put in there with full transparency," Edelson said.
E-mails exchanged in March between Edelson, DFL House staffers and Cody Wiberg, the pharmacy board's former director, suggest the board was well aware of the decision to include in the bill THC edibles containing up to 5 milligrams per serving.
"Changing the THC limits is a political call, I think," Wiberg wrote in a March 22 e-mail to Edelson and two staffers. "A gummy with 5mg of THC can get some people high — kids and adults who haven't used THC products much. But the Board won't object to this change."
The new law was born from an effort to bolster regulation of the market for hemp-derived products.
Hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products were already legal in Minnesota, provided they contained less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, the primary intoxicant in marijuana. That legal threshold did not apply to delta-8 THC, an intoxicating cousin of delta-9. As a result, delta-8 products were widely sold in the state in various forms and at dosages high enough to pose health risks, Edelson said.
The new law's milligram requirements apply to any form of THC, reining in the delta-8 market while also legalizing the sale and purchase of traditional delta-9 THC edibles and beverages.
"Our goal was to bring some clarity and certainty into the marketplace for these products, and in doing so we ended up creating a safe harbor, essentially, for selling edibles and beverages with THC content of 0.3% and up to five milligrams, which is very close to what we would end up with in a legalized marketplace for those kinds of products," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Phillips said legalization of THC edibles was not done at the Pharmacy Board's request. But board staff did not object to the 5-milligram and 50-milligram limits because "products containing far higher amounts of delta-8 were being sold due to ambiguities in existing law," Phillips said.
Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, said she was disappointed the Pharmacy Board did not become aware of the law's full impact sooner.
But Benson, who sat on the conference committee that approved the bill, dodged repeated questions of whether she herself understood the law would legalize THC edibles in a text message exchange with the Star Tribune.
In a statement, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller praised the new law as regulating the industry for hemp products and enacting safeguards to keep them away from children.
CBD and THC products must be clearly labeled and sold only to those 21 or older under the new law. Edibles and beverages must also 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."
Miller's statement did not say whether the Senate intended for the law to allow new THC products, however.
Sen. Jim Abeler, a Republican from Anoka who chairs the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee, told the Star Tribune he did not realize the new law would legalize edibles containing any type of THC before it passed. He thought it would only regulate delta-8 THC products.
Abeler said the Legislature should consider rolling the law back, but Winkler said Democrats have no interest in doing that. House Democrats support full recreational marijuana legalization; Senate Republicans oppose it.
The law places no limit on how many CBD and THC products can be purchased and doesn't regulate who can manufacture or sell them. The Pharmacy Board released some guidance Thursday to answer common questions about the law.
"There is no agency at this time that's licensing businesses manufacturing or retailing," Phillips said.
The Pharmacy Board employs 23 people and doesn't have the resources to inspect all new products, so it will rely on consumer complaints, Phillips said. The board also does not have a lab to test hemp-derived THC products, but Phillips said it's working to set one up.
She called on the Legislature to consider a state Office of Cannabis Management to oversee all aspects of its use. The Pharmacy Board and the Department of Agriculture currently share oversight of industrial hemp and hemp-derived products, while Minnesota's medical marijuana program is housed within the Department of Health.
Edelson admitted the new law does "open the floodgates" for THC-infused products to come to market. She said lawmakers must pass more specific regulations when they next convene at the Capitol.
At the Nothing But Hemp store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul on Friday, a few dozen customers were lined up outside the door eagerly waiting to buy THC-infused edible products.
As Dylan and Lindsey Crepps of St. Paul waited, they pondered whether the new law could lead to full recreational marijuana legalization in Minnesota.
"This is the gateway, right?" Lindsey Crepps said. "I mean, if you're selling edibles, THC, delta-9, you're basically selling actual flower. So what's the difference, you know what I mean?"
"This is kind of like baby steps to something that's inevitably probably going to happen sooner or later," Dylan Crepps said. "It's widely available anyway."
Staff writer Katelyn Vue contributed to this story.