A Minnesota bill that contains provisions to provide permanent protections allowing state hemp businesses to legally market certain cannabis products—including foods and beverages infused with CBD and other cannabinoids—is heading to the governor’s desk.
While adult-use marijuana legalization didn’t advance through the GOP-controlled Senate this session, despite a recent effort by the Democratic minority leader to force a vote ahead of a legislative deadline, significant hemp policy reform does appear positioned for enactment.
Large-scale omnibus legislation that cleared the House and Senate contains the hemp provisions and now awaits Gov. Tim Walz’s (D) signature.
What the measure would do is permanently correct a legislative drafting problem that emerged after state lawmakers sought to align Minnesota’s hemp policy with that of the federal government, which legalized the crop as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.
If the bill is ultimately signed, it would make it so all hemp-derived cannabinoids including CBD could be legally sold in food items, beverages, topicals and more—as long as the products contain less than the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC. Edible and beverage products would need to be limited to a total of 5 mg THC per serving and 50 mg per package.
The THC limit would apply to all forms of the psychoactive compounds, including the most widely known compound delta-9 THC, as well as other increasingly popular derivatives like delta-8 that exist in an especially grey regulatory area in many state markets—although a federal court ruled last week that the isomer is legal under the Farm Bill.
Kurtis Hanna, a co-founder and contracted lobbyist with Minnesota NORML, initially raised the legislative issue that this bill seeks to resolve with the state Board of Pharmacy, which initiated rulemaking in April to enact a temporary regulatory fix that lasts one year. Now, the newly approved legislation would codify that policy providing for expanded access to hemp products and clear up regulatory uncertainty on a permanent basis.
Notably, the bill also creates an age limit for the sale of any hemp-derived cannabinoids, making it so they could only be sold to adults 21 and older. There would also be new testing, labeling and packaging requirements for hemp products.
HF3595 provides regulation for the sale of hemp-derived cannabinoid products, including testing, labeling, packaging, and serving requirements, and authorizing food and beverage sales.
— Sensible Change Minnesota (@sensichangemn) May 23, 2022
This is just one reform proposal that advocates pushed for this session—with separate measures that would have expanded the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy by including non-flower forms of the substance not making it across the finish line—but they see it as an interim victory that will help pave the path to broader reform when the 2023 session starts next year.
“Really, this year, we had to work around the edges and not focus on [adult-use legalization],” Hanna said. “The assumption is that next year, [broader reform] is going to be a much more viable path forward.”
Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen (D) tried last week to advance broader legalization through a a procedural mechanism that would have required a supermajority of 41 votes to advance. But it failed, as expected. A House companion version did pass that full chamber last year.
Back in January, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and López Franzen discussed their plans to advance the cannabis reform this session.
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Winkler said at the time that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions.”
For his part, the governor is supportive of marijuana legalization, and he included funding to implement the reform in his annual budget request to lawmakers in January.
While he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his prior budget request, he said this year that he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with the House-passed bill.
Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted following the House’s passage of the bill last year, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.
A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.
The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure, but it does not seem that will happen this year.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.