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Minnesota legalizes cannabis edibles, catching some Republicans off guard

A hemp grower trims and weighs hemp flower for a customer at a facility in Newport News, Va. (Kristen Zeis for The Washington Post)
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A Minnesota law went into effect Friday legalizing edibles containing small amounts of THC, the component in cannabis that provides a high, apparently surprising some Republicans, at least one of whom said he voted for the provision unknowingly.

The law permits the sale of edibles and beverages containing up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving. Most edibles in states where recreational cannabis is fully legalized contain 10 milligrams per serving.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Heather Edelson (D), said in a statement that “Minnesotans 21 and older will now be able to obtain the products they want in a safe and regulated manner.”

She added that the legislation was drafted in concert with the state agriculture and pharmacy boards.

The law, which passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in May, was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz (D) last month. But some Republicans told the Star Tribune after the law went into effect that they were caught off guard.

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State Sen. Jim Abeler, a Republican from a Minneapolis suburb, told the newspaper that he hadn’t realized the bill broadly legalized products containing THC. He said he thought it had permitted only delta-8 THC, which provides milder effects, though it also legalized the sale of delta-9 THC, which causes stronger feelings more commonly associated with a high from cannabis products. Abeler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Sen. Michelle Benson, a Republican from Ham Lake, about 25 miles north of Minneapolis, “dodged repeated questions of whether she herself understood the law would legalize THC edibles,” the paper reported. She told the Star Tribune she wished the state pharmacy board had realized the full impact of the law earlier. Neither Benson nor the head of the pharmacy board immediately responded to requests for comment.

Edelson resisted the idea that Republicans didn’t understand the scope of the bill, saying that the author of the Senate version of the bill was a Republican, state Sen. Mark Koran, who co-chairs the medical cannabis task force with Edelson. “I have no doubt he understood and read the intent and what we were aiming to do with this legislation,” she said in an email.

“There were no last-minute tactics pulled to pass this legislation,” she added.

As for Abeler, Edelson said committee leaders are faced with a “huge burden,” working long hours to meet deadlines for omnibus bills. “A great deal of complicated policy information is provided and reviewed so the exact details of a bill that is hundreds of pages long may be hard for him to recall,” she said.

According to guidance issued last week by the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, the law “does not specify particular tetrahydrocannabinols,” or THC.

The board said that while multiple types of THC may be included in a product, it may not contain more than 5 milligrams per serving or 50 milligrams per package. “For example, a product cannot contain 5mg of delta-9 THC and 5mg of delta-8 THC,” the board advised.

The bill approved only THC from hemp, not marijuana, though both come from the cannabis plant. The variations in terminology depend on the concentration of THC.

“THC derived from hemp is the same as THC derived from marijuana,” Michael Bronstein, president of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, said in an email.

“The Minnesota law completely inverts the concept of licensing, taxing and regulating marijuana by legalizing all types of intoxicating hemp-derived THC products, which are in some cases exactly the same as marijuana products, rivaling and perhaps surpassing the availability of these products in any adult use state,” Bronstein said.

Edelson, the bill’s author, said some products containing THC were already being sold legally by way of a loophole created by earlier laws.

“Our goal was to close a legal loophole around the sale of products, ban the products from being manufactured to target youth, and create a model that would allow for limited amounts of THC in a legal way,” she said. “It was clear from our work on this legislation that adult Minnesotans were already purchasing and consuming these products; our goal was to add more consumer protections.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that advocates for the legalization of cannabis, argues that legalizing and regulating cannabis products can help keep them out of the hands of minors.

“Sellers of regulated products like tobacco and alcohol can be fined or lose their licenses if they sell to minors. Prohibition [of cannabis] guarantees that marijuana dealers are not subject to any such regulations,” the organization says. “Drug dealers don’t ask for ID.”

Cannabis for medical purposes is legal in 39 states, including Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. Not including Minnesota, recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states and the District, according to MJBizDaily, an industry news site.

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