The state agency that monitors Minnesota's THC-infused edibles market filed a lawsuit Monday against three Moorhead-based companies whose products allegedly violated state law and sickened several Iowa teenagers.
The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is suing Northland Vapor Company Moorhead LLC, Northland Vapor Company Bemidji LLC, and Wonky Confections LLC in Clay County District Court for allegedly violating the edibles law that took effect earlier this year.
That law allows for the sale of edibles containing THC — the cannabis component that can cause a high — as long as they're derived from legal hemp and contain no more than 5 milligrams per serving and 50 milligrams per package.
The companies, collectively known as Northland Vapor, sold edible products containing as much as 2,500 milligrams of THC per package, according to the suit, or 50 times the legal limit.
Northland Vapor's "Death By Gummy Bears" products also looked like traditional gummy bear candy, according to pictures provided by the Pharmacy Board. The new state law expressly outlaws THC-infused products from resembling national brands or candy. Products must be in childproof packaging with clearly marked warnings.
"This group of companies far exceeded those limits and did so in a type of product historically marketed to children," said Pharmacy Board Executive Director Jill Phillips during a Monday news conference at the State Capitol. "To our fellow Minnesotans, we encourage you to be cautious when purchasing and consuming edible cannabinoid products."
Northland Vapor did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Pharmacy Board regulators said they recently seized about $7 million worth of the companies' products and are seeking a court order to destroy them. They also are asking the court to bar the businesses from selling and manufacturing cannabis edible products that violate state law.
Five teenagers in Des Moines fell ill in October after consuming "anywhere from one-half to two full Death by Gummy Bears," Phillips said.
"Their symptoms involve nausea and vomiting, severe anxiety and paranoia, severe tremors, increased heart rate and difficulty breathing," Phillips said. Two students who consumed two full edibles were taken to the emergency room, she said.
The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted the state Pharmacy Board about the products after receiving complaints, and the two agencies began a joint investigation.
"We're working together with our state partners to protect the public from harmful products," Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, said in a statement.
Pharmacy Board leaders called on state lawmakers to more thoroughly regulate hemp-derived edible products. The recently passed edibles law lacks a licensing structure and dedicated funding for enforcement.
Over the past four months, the Pharmacy Board has received 46 complaints about noncompliant THC edible products, Phillips said. But the Northland Vapor case marks the first time the board has actually seized illegal products.
The board has just 23 employees, including five surveyors who are responsible for conducting inspections and investigations, Phillips said. She requested that the Legislature create a state cannabis agency to monitor the products instead of the short-handed Pharmacy Board.
"We're limited with what we can do. These are not licensees of ours, so it's difficult to track them," Phillips said. "We need licensing, we need taxation, better regulation and enforcement."
DFL state Rep. Heather Edelson, who authored the edibles law, issued a statement Monday pledging to improve Minnesota's hemp laws next year through licensure, enforcement and taxation.
As for the businesses being sued, Edelson said they should be held accountable civilly and possibly criminally if their products are determined to have caused direct physical harm.
"It is critical that we prioritize the health and safety of consumers and hold bad actors accountable," she said.