Minnesota legalizes marijuana edibles
The edibles-only legislation is unique among the states
Starting today, Minnesotans can legally purchase edible products containing up to 5 milligrams of THC per serving. To my knowledge that makes Minnesota the only state in the union to legalize edible marijuana products for recreational use, but not smokable ones.
The rule change came as a surprise to me, and evidently to some of the lawmakers who voted on it as well. I had thought the bill was an effort to clarify the legal status of certain hemp-derived compounds, like Delta-8 THC, that were technically not illegal under state or federal law, but which had similar effects to the far more familiar Delta-9 THC. But at some point in the legislative process, lawmakers decided to make *all* types of hemp-derived THC legal in edible products at levels of 5 milligrams per serving or less.
A little background here: legally speaking, “hemp” is simply the name given to strains of the cannabis plant that contain very low amounts of compounds, like the various flavors of THC, that make people high. Historically hemp was used to create things like ropes and fabrics. But in the mid-twentieth century, federal and state regulators typically made no distinction between hemp and “marijuana” — the more potent strains of the plant containing higher amounts of THC. Hemp production essentially ceased.
In recent years, however, states began legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. That put pressure on the federal government to clarify the legal status of hemp, and in 2018 it was taken off the federal controlled substances list entirely. That helped usher in an explosion of new hemp-derived products. Most of them focused on CBD — cannabidiol, a compound which doesn’t get you high but which… might have some other, vaguely defined effects?
At any rate, CBD suddenly had essentially the same regulatory status as other “herbal supplements” like valerian, echinacea or St. John’s wort. Seemingly overnight, it was everywhere — CBD gummies, CBD lotions, CBD bath bombs, CBD pet treats, pre-rolled CBD joints, etc. etc. I realized CBD was officially a mainstream thing when they started selling it at the hardware store in my town of 1,400 people.
In the past couple of years, however, hemp producers figured out a way to extract a different chemical from the plant — Delta 8 THC. It’s basically a slightly less-potent version of Delta 9 THC, the main ingredient in marijuana, but it has one major advantage: because it’s technically a different chemical, it’s not outlawed at the federal level or in most states. That innovation created a second hemp product boom, this time involving Delta 8 — gummies, vape cartridges, tinctures, et cetera. It’s an honest-to-goodness “legal” high, even in states that don’t otherwise have recreational marijuana laws.
That was the situation Minnesota recently found itself in: Delta 8 products were coming on the market with essentially no regulation. So, to its credit, the legislature took action. As I mentioned above, my initial understanding was that they were creating a limited legal status for certain Delta 8 products to address the Wild West economy sprouting up around an otherwise unregulated commodity. But they actually went one step further, permitting all hemp-derived THC in edible products, whether it’s Delta 8 or Delta 9 or what-have-you.
There are, however, some important limitations: dosage is capped at 5 milligrams per serving or 50 milligrams per package, which is lower than you can get in other recreational states (Minnesotans on Twitter are already comparing it to the state’s 3.2% ABV beer law, currently the only one in the nation). All products for smoking and vaping are explicitly banned, so Delta 8 vape cartridges are no more. There’s also no provision for home-grown marijuana as there is in other legal states.
Still it is, strictly speaking, legal marijuana. There is absolutely no difference between Delta 9 THC derived from hemp and the stuff that comes from “regular marijuana.” It’s as if the state legalized vodka made from potatoes, but not vodka from corn.
No other state has a regulatory regime like this, and I suspect this one won’t last very long. Radically different criminal justice implications for people consuming edibles and those smoking marijuana flower are illogical and untenable — particularly if the people facing criminal charges whole-plant pot are disproportionately black, as historically they have been. Minnesota, for instance, has the nation’s eighth-highest disparity in arrest rates between black and white people for marijuana possession, according to a 2020 ACLU report.
If edible sales don’t lead to the sky falling here, as they haven’t in other legal states, it’ll further increase pressure on Minnesota lawmakers to put a full legalization regime in place.
For now, though, Minnesotans will have to be settle for enjoying their mild edibles along with their near beer.