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Bonkers Thus Far: The Impact of Minnesota’s New THC Law

A Q&A with Jason Tarasek, a cannabis lawyer who helped launch the bill, reflects on its unlikely passage and what it means for the future

Super Lawyers online-exclusive

Super Lawyers: First off, can you just give me a brief synopsis of the new Minnesota law that went into effect July 1, and how it came to pass?

Jason Tarasek: Yeah. I was actively lobbying for this bill. We started talking about it late in 2021. It initially started out as a bill that was aimed to fix kind of a loophole in the law that when the legislature legalized hemp and hemp derivatives through statute in 2018, they didn’t take hemp-derived THC and trace amounts off our state’s Controlled Substances Act.

But the bill kept evolving from then. You know, various state agencies and legislators started tacking things on. Our Board of Pharmacy, which is the body that helps regulate these products, they were focused on eliminating delta-8 vape cartridges. So that was a piece of this bill that has become law, where you essentially can’t sell delta-8 vapes or really any vapes anymore.

But then late in session, not extremely late, but within about six weeks ago, this piece was added, where it expressly allowed for the sale of hemp- derived THC in food and beverages, which, as you may know, it’s often impermissible because the FDA doesn’t allow that.

And it really never got a lot of attention, even though the Democrats held hearings on the bill. The Republicans never did. So, we have a divided legislature here. The Democrats control the House, the Republicans control the Senate. They don’t agree on a lot. The Republicans, in particular, have shown no interest in legalizing adult use of marijuana and are often opposed to really any expansion of hemp or marijuana laws.

We kept waiting for the pushback, and it never came. And I was notified with a half hour to go, at 11:30 at night on the last day of session.

SL: “It’s still in there, right?”

JT: It was in there, and it passed as it was. And so the opposition we were anticipating never came.

SL: And why do you think that is?

JT: Well, so this bill ultimately was tucked into a massive omnibus bill, which is an efficient way to get laws passed, but it’s a tiny detail in a massive bill that I think perhaps some Republicans didn’t notice.

SL: But now we are seeing municipalities passing ordinances, or in the process of starting to, that essentially outlaws THC in their communities again.

JT: Yeah. I’m aware that certain cities are passing moratoriums that are blocking the sale of THC-infused food and beverages in their cities. There have been, frankly, very few cities that have done that. And Minneapolis and St. Paul, I think it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to do it. So it’s not going to eliminate this market altogether. It may make it a little harder for consumers to find the stuff they want, but there’s no way that this is going to be rolled back.

SL: You said that you were kind of there at the beginning of the bill and everything. But in other ways, as a cannabis attorney in Minnesota, were you prepared for what happened?

JT: I was as surprised as anybody, looking back. I was happy, but I certainly didn’t anticipate it. I think there were certainly some Republicans—the key Republicans involved in the conference committees that you are sort of tasked with watching hemp and cannabis legislation—that knew exactly what they were doing. And I think a lot of their colleagues looked at them as sort of the gatekeepers, and they gave a thumbs up, and it proceeded.

The interesting thing is that I think a lot of Republican legislators, who may have been anti-cannabis, they’re going to learn now that their constituents are really happy with this. It’s always sort of interesting to see who the cannabis users are after legalization bills get passed, because they often don’t match what the stereotypes are.

SL: So, what has the media attention been like? Because it sort of came from left field, you’ve been probably fielding a lot of calls.

JT: Bonkers is the only way I can describe it. The initial reporting was a little nebulous in terms of even the implementation date for this new law, because the statute is confusing. And the initial focus was on allowing for CBD in food and beverages, and I think slowly, as word trickled out. Well, the big piece was when the Star Tribune ran a story a couple of days before these products became legal. They ran it on the front page. And then it was clear that this was really happening. And my friends and family realized I wasn’t just making it up.

SL: Within a few days, anyone who had edibles and other products available were pretty much sold out. Is that still the case?

JT: Well, so the interesting thing about this is that these hemp-derived products still need to be limited to 0.3% delta-9 THC, which is in compliance with the limit of the Federal Farm Bill. So out-of-state gummy providers, out-of-state beverage providers are actually able to send products here and be in compliance, because so long as the sale occurs here, it’s legal here.

SL: And you’ve been seeing a lot of that happening?

JT: Yeah. I mean, a lot of Minnesota companies were ready for this, but it did catch a lot of people flat-footed. But I can guarantee you they’re ramping up quickly to meet the demand.

SL: And it is a special law, in that products are hemp derived. So, we’re talking about the same plant, same technically kind of high with THC, but just a different process to get there?

JT: Correct, yeah.

I mean the hemp and marijuana plant are the same plant genetically. They produce the same THC. The distinction between them is a legal distinction, where governments have declared that if a plant or its derivatives has 0.3% delta-9 THC or less it’s hemp. If it has more, it’s marijuana. So, yes, this is all hemp-derived THC, but this stuff still gets people high. But we aren’t a full adult-use marijuana state. So we are, I guess, defying the typical definitions, whereas it’s normally a toggle. You know, you’re either an adult-use marijuana state or you’re not. We’ve created a new category for ourselves. We’re in this middle ground.

SL: And do you see a push for that coming, becoming a full adult-use marijuana state?

JT: Yes. The Democrats have been pushing for full adult-use legalization for several years. The Democratic-controlled House has passed a legalization bill. The Republican-controlled Senate has shown no interest in taking it up. That may change because, again, whenever legalization measures go into effect, the stigma has disappeared quite rapidly.

Legislators are often surprised to see that the sky doesn’t fall if you allow adults to consume THC responsibly. And it may be that the Republicans start to support measures like this. But like everything, a lot depends on the election in November. If the Democrats take control in Minnesota, both chambers of the legislature and our Democratic governor is reelected, I guarantee you Minnesota will become an adult-use state. If the Republicans take control, it’s less likely, but still not impossible.

SL: With the passing of the law, has it changed much of your day-to-day life as an attorney?

JT: Yeah, I’m much busier.

SL: You’re fielding questions, obviously, from the media, but in what other ways?

JT: A lot of entrepreneurs are jumping into this space because there is much more money to be made now.

You could survive as a CBD retailer, but most CBD retailers I think were biding their time for full adult-use legalization. People are getting rich selling THC-infused products now, and the market will respond.

SL: And you help them with the licensing?

JT: Well, oddly, there’s no licensing involved, but I help them get their businesses established, and I help them comply with the statutory restrictions on the sales.

SL: Do you have anything you think would be pertinent for our audience to know, regarding the new laws?  

JT: For whatever reason, I don’t think the cannabis industry nationwide has really figured this out, but we are a new market here, and there’s money to be made. So, I would not be surprised to see the multi-state operators jumping in.

SL: So, you’re expecting businesses to ramp up like real big, or it has the potential to?

JT: Oh, yeah.

And I would not be surprised if we expand this market, because it’s a little silly to limit this to food and beverages. I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. You know, the THC delivery system, vaping, I understand the health concerns around that, but consumers should have more choices in this, and we’re going to do it eventually. I think we should do it sooner rather than later because these products are safer than alcohol and it’s time for us as a society to admit that.

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