Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The swift departure of Gov. Tim Walz's new cannabis czar is a timely reminder of the news media's vital government watchdog role.
Erin DuPree, named on Thursday to lead the state's new Office of Cannabis Management, stepped aside on Friday after reporting by the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio raised troubling questions about her qualifications for this important post.
According to the Star Tribune, DuPree "advertised and sold noncompliant vapes and edible products containing more THC than is legally allowed." An MPR story also uncovered "irregularities," including a history of unpaid taxes for a home-cleaning business DuPree owned as well as two court judgments for unpaid wages or for work that didn't get done.
Diligent journalists did a more thorough job vetting DuPree than the governor's office. Their work quickly rectified a hiring mistake at a critical time — just as this fledgling agency is trying to get off the ground.
DuPree, to her credit, stepped down before officially starting Oct. 2. Walz also has admirably acknowledged the error. "In this case, the process did not work and we got this wrong," he said at a weekend appearance.
Still, it's baffling that DuPree was named to the post. Despite apparently having no legal expertise or government experience, she would have led an agency of about 150 employees charged with a complex mission: standing up the regulatory framework for the state's rapidly growing cannabis marketplace.
The Minnesota Legislature legalized recreational marijuana during the 2023 session. The job's salary: $151,505.
While DuPree's resume gaps shouldn't have been an automatic disqualifier, that background nevertheless would be extremely helpful. Specifically, it would help smoothly translate the state's new marijuana laws into workable regulations for growers, processors and retailers. This is the agency's core mission at this point.
Having a stellar business leadership track record might make up for this lack of legal or government experience. But DuPree's credentials shouldn't have inspired confidence. She is a cannabis entrepreneur, which is good. But she only founded her Apple Valley-based Loonacy Cannabis Co. in 2022, the Star Tribune reported. Another cannabis venture is 5 months old.
As the other coverage indicates, there are serious questions about management of her other ventures. Another red flag: none of these appear to have been of the size that her new agency would have been.
Why the "irregularities" didn't surface during the governor's vetting process is unclear. The tax liens and court judgments come up in a public records check, something that can be done online in minutes through Accurint or other services.
As for sales of cannabis products exceeding state dose limits or otherwise not in compliance at DuPree's business, there are other retailers out there that have likely crossed this line. But to be a credible rule maker, you can't have been a rule breaker.
In an interview Monday morning on WCCO Radio, DuPree criticized media reports as one-sided and said she didn't knowingly sell out-of-compliance cannabis products.
"Any small-business owners who sell hemp-derived products understands how confusing and convoluted our laws were," Dupree said on WCCO. "To be quite honest, that was one of the reasons that I wanted to serve our state and community."
For now, the new office remains in the capable hands of its interim director Charlene Briner, a state government veteran well regarded for her personable and pragmatic management style.
Walz, a DFLer, and his team have a second chance to find the right person to lead this highly visible new office, and we urge them to make the most of it.
Recreational marijuana may now be legal in the state, but that is a steep departure from years past, particularly for generations who grew up during "Just Say No" or "Reefer Madness" drug policy eras. Having someone with unquestionable credentials will help assure concerned Minnesotans that this change is for the better.