As more shops sell hemp, legislators weigh future of cannabis

419 Hemp sales associates Shawn Kretz (l) and Santino Kretz at 722 W. Lake St.

Hemp products range from shoes to massage oil to Strawberry Haze smokable flowers at the shop 419 Hemp, named to be notably just short of 420.

The store at 722 W. Lake St. is owned by Justin Trott, a licensed hemp grower in the state’s industrial hemp pilot program, who said he offers cannabis flavor without the THC high in marijuana. His products stand in 100 Minnesota stores and he gets a phone call from another store every day, he said.

Under the federal Farm Bill signed in December, hemp is no longer considered a controlled substance and states can set up permanent growing programs, with farmers eligible for crop insurance and federal grants.

“My insurance company was a lot happier,” Trott said. “Banks are still a little leery.”

419 Hemp 4

The cannabis industry is rapidly changing in Minnesota. While hemp-derived CBD, or cannabidiol, is increasingly available in stores, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy warns that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated most health claims related to CBD, and cautions that sources may not be licensed or tested.

Meanwhile, legislators have introduced bills to start a conversation on regulating recreational marijuana and pose the question to voters in 2020. Joining longstanding legalization activists is the new group Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR), with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on its steering committee. An opposition group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota has become vocal as well, raising concerns about underage youth and driving while high.

The Minneapolis City Council is on the side of legalization, passing a 2019 policy position to legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis.

“I think people are waking up to the fact that it’s failed policy, it’s a failed prohibition, it criminalizes people of color disproportionately, [and] doesn’t do a good job keeping youth from accessing it compared to other drugs such as alcohol,” Council Member Andrew Johnson said at a city meeting.

Council Member Andrea Jenkins emphasized equity and access for communities of color and small businesses.

“We’ve got to create opportunities for people of color to be in this billion-dollar industry,” Jenkins said.

During the recent Minneapolis 2040 long-range planning discussion, Council Member Lisa Goodman said city zoning should accommodate future cannabis production.

Minneapolis Police have said they would no longer engage in details focused on low-level marijuana.

Hemp hits the market

kindly-cb1-classicMinneapolis startup Kindly Coffee is close to rolling out a cold brew coffee infused with 10 milligrams of full-spectrum hemp oil sourced from the Netherlands. Kingfield founder Daniel Linstroth said hemp oil removes the jitters from the coffee’s caffeine boost. Outside of the world of technology, he said he can’t think of another entrepreneurial opportunity like hemp and cannabis.

“From an opportunity perspective, the sky is the limit,” he said.

Staff at Spot Spa at 1600 W. Lake St. said they’re looking to add more services incorporating CBD and hemp, and they can’t keep the products on the shelves. Legacy Glassworks at 2928 Lyndale Ave. S. started selling CBD about a month ago, offering products including tinctures and gummies. Nothing But Hemp is now open at 617 W. Lake St., selling edible, topical and vape products with CBD.

Nothing But Hemp

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concern in December about products with cannabis that make unapproved drug claims, a violation of law. Because CBD is considered a drug, it cannot lawfully be added to food, according to the FDA. But the FDA gave the green light to hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed protein and hemp seed oil as food additives, so long as companies make no drug claims.

Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, said he’s watched the CBD industry quickly spring up over the course of two years. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle, he said, and there are likely hundreds of retailers selling products, including the grocery store a half-block from his office and his veterinarian.

“We might have to issue a cease and desist order to Jeff Bezos at Amazon.com,” he said.

The board has not received any complaints about people being harmed by CBD products, but Wiberg said he worries about illegal misbranding and insecticides in plants.

“If products are going to be sold, there should be some testing requirements,” he said, adding that labels should include the name of the manufacturer.

State Sen. Karla Bigham is chief author of a bill that would explicitly make it legal to sell and possess CBD in Minnesota. She wants to remove legal gray area, given the federal Farm Bill and the state’s pilot hemp program.

“We need to acknowledge that this is an emerging industry and not be an impediment,” she said. “…Both sides of the aisle want to see success in agriculture, and I think this is one way we can move on that.”

Hemp farmer John Strohfus is dreaming of hemp Cheerios. He hopes to see exponential growth around the crop.

“I think we’re at the point where soybeans were 30 years ago,” he said. “…And CBD is going to actually drive that. I bet you 100 percent more people know about hemp this year than they did last year, and that’s probably because of CBD.”

Marijuana legalization debate hits the capitol

Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and 21 states considered legalization bills last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One Minnesota poll shows that residents have become increasingly receptive to the idea. Out of 8,000-plus votes cast during a State Fair opinion poll last summer, support for legalized recreational marijuana for ages 21 and older reached 56.2 percent, with 33.9 percent opposed.

One bill would take the question before voters in the 2020 general election. Proposed by Rep. Raymond Dehn, passage would amend the Minnesota Constitution to allow a person age 21 or older to grow or possess up to 12 cannabis plants. Cannabis could not be consumed openly in public, and the state would regulate and license sales.

Watching legalization reach Michigan in the Midwest, Sen. Melisa Franzen said it’s time to talk about regulating recreational marijuana. She and Rep. Mike Freiberg are preparing another bill that would touch nearly every committee in the House and Senate, addressing questions related to public safety, the tax rate, potency, clean indoor air and minors.

“It’s something that we can’t avoid discussing anymore,” Franzen said.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports Minnesota-grown adult recreational use with taxation and supports expunging criminal records for people convicted of marijuana crimes.

Advocates of legalization say marijuana is safer than alcohol, prohibition doesn’t work and laws are disproportionately enforced. A 2013 ACLU report found that Minnesota is among states with the largest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates, with a black person 7.8 times more likely to be arrested than a white person.

Opponents of legalization say it would only increase the black market, create more driving hazards and harm underage youth. In a recent press conference, the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota noted that substances today can be much more potent than marijuana was decades ago.

A review of 10,000 studies by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found evidence to support that cannabis works to reduce chronic pain, muscle spasms and chemo-related nausea in adults. The research suggests that cannabis use prior to driving increases the risk of a crash. Studies did not find a link between cannabis smoking and cancers associated with tobacco use. Smoking cannabis on a regular basis was linked to more frequent bronchitis episodes, and researchers noted a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users. The National Academies recommended further study of cannabis, citing researchers’ challenges with access.

Minnesota’s medical cannabis program launched in 2015. The state reported in January that the Minneapolis region contains 5,927 active patients. Out of more than 14,000 patients enrolled statewide, most were treating intractable pain, post-traumatic stress and muscle spasms.

Coming from California, where he watched the shift from medicinal marijuana to legalized recreational marijuana, Nothing But Hemp founder Steven Brown said he’s accustomed to seeing dispensaries full of waiting patients, many who never tried cannabis before.

“Most of the dispensaries were out of their supply within a day,” he said.

For the moment, the Minnesota market is adapting to hemp, now that it’s removed from the nation’s list of Controlled Substances. Linstroth said he was surprised to see the big tent of political coalitions that pushed for the change, with legislation led by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. But he wasn’t surprised it happened.

“I think the direction in which the country is headed is towards deregulation and legalization, not just of hemp, but cannabis as a whole,” he said.