ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The sale and consumption of some low-dose marijuana edibles became legal in Minnesota on Friday, bringing celebration from weed advocates and incredulity from at least one legislator who said he wasn't aware what he voted for.
A new state law allows Minnesotans over the age of 21 to buy food and beverages containing up to 5 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per serving– up to 50 milligrams per package. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that gives users a high, one of many psychoactive compounds found in the drug. Consumers could be seen lining up outside the state’s relatively few hemp-product stores, eager to get a taste of newly legal gummies, chocolates and drinks.
Legalization comes as something of a side effect, having been part of an effort to regulate an existing market for delta-8 THC, a cannabis derivative not previously regulated under state or federal law. State law prevented the sale of hemp and cannabidiol products with more than 0.3% delta-9 THC, the primary intoxicant in smokable marijuana. Delta-8 is typically found in much smaller quantities in marijuana, and is extracted through more complicated and varied chemical processes than its cousin delta-9.
Democratic state Representative Heather Edelson, of the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, sponsored the legislation in the Minnesota House and has said that the law was designed to rein in the delta-8 market, which has raised some health concerns among critics. The low-level legalization, she said, was a known and necessary effect to attain that goal. Edelson’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
“To extract delta-8 requires a tremendous amount of chemicals,” attorney Jason Tarasek said Friday, adding that delta-8’s lower yield also makes it far more expensive to produce than delta-9 THC. “It’s unlikely that retailers are going to sell delta-8 if they could just sell 5 milligrams of delta-9.”
While 5 milligrams of THC is enough to get a novice high, regular or semiregular marijuana users may need larger doses to get a buzz. In most states with legal pot, 10 milligrams is the typical standard dose in edibles.
“People are comparing it to 3.2, near-beer,” said Tarasek, who founded the firm Minnesota Cannabis Law and is a board member for the Minnesota Cannabis Association. “Maybe, but people are going to be using this to get high.”
He said he hoped the change would convince skeptics that legal marijuana could be introduced in Minnesota without the sky falling.
One of those skeptics may be Jim Abeler, a Republican state senator and chair of the Human Services Reform, Finance and Policy Committee. Abeler told Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Ryan Faircloth Thursday night that he wasn’t aware of the legalization effect when Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the bill. Abeler called for a rollback of the bill, which supporters were quick to quash.
“He voted for it. He signed the conference report,” Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said.
Abeler’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Minnesota has had a divided government since 2016, when Republicans won a majority in the state House while Democrats kept the Senate. That flipped in 2018, and the state has had a blue House and red Senate ever since. Marijuana legalization has been a hot topic throughout that period, with Democratic Governor Tim Walz naming it as a priority in his 2018 campaign and the state’s Democratic Farmer Labor party adding legalization to its platform in 2020.
The state’s two single-issue marijuana parties, the Grassroots Party and Legal Marijuana Now, have also made substantial gains in recent years. Each met the threshold for major-party status in 2016, and Legal Marijuana Now candidates have complicated a number of the state’s legislative races for Democrats.
While some Minnesota Republicans have expressed support for legalization, party leadership in both the House and Senate has opposed it at almost every turn. Still, Tarasek said, he found Abeler’s claim of cluelessness hard to believe.
“This bill had been under discussion from day one of session,” he said. “I met with many Republican senators about this– it wasn’t any mystery what we were up to.” Nevertheless, he said, “I think Senator Abeler and his colleagues are going to see that this is nothing to be afraid of.”
Pushing for a rollback, he said, may not be a good move strategically.
“I don’t think that position is going to be popular among voters,” Tarasek said, “and I can almost guarantee you that the DFL is going to make this an issue in November.”
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