Confusion over the legalization of cannabis
It’s only been about 48 hours since recreational marijuana became legal in Minnesota, and businesses and law enforcement are already butting heads over what products are OK to sell and what aren’t.
“Yesterday marked the beginning of a new era for legalized marijuana,” declared Faribault Police Chief John Sherwin.
On Tuesday — the first day of legal recreational marijuana — police seized nearly two dozen plants from what they called a “tent sale” outside a Faribault tobacconist.
Sherwin says that while the plants don’t yet produce THC, the ingredient that gets a user high, they are what he calls “an instrument of a potential crime.”
“The flower has not developed, the bud has not developed,” says the chief. “But when it does happen, it will certainly be at a level that exceeds this threshold.”
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But Matt Little — the founder of NuQanna, a Waseca-based licensed hemp company — disagrees.
“We’re selling a houseplant,” he says. “There is no THC in the plant at this time.”
Little says he was the one who put those plants on the market.
He says he has consulted with his lawyers and has the right to sell non-flowering plants.
Little calls them hemp and says they are perfectly legal.
“It’s a hemp plant if it’s below 0.3% THC, and it’s a marijuana plant as soon as it gets above 0.3%,” he says. “There is no THC in that plant, zero, 100% zero THC. Impossible to have THC in that plant at this stage of its life.”
Tom Gallagher, an attorney with the Minnesota chapter of the marijuana advocacy group NORML, says there is some confusion in the new law because it does not have specific language about immature plants.
“To me, it’s only to be expected that they’re going to have to revisit this in the next legislative session to clean it up,” he explains. “Looking at the law researching this afternoon, I don’t see anything that makes it a crime to sell an immature plant.”
Chief Sherwin says his officers went to the distribution site after receiving citizen complaints.
He notes that no arrests have been made and that his department is consulting with prosecutors on how to proceed in this case.
“There may be some regulatory grayness right now in the new laws,” says Sherwin. “If you talk to the people in the Department of Agriculture, you will realize that hemp growers cannot have strains of marijuana growing in their facilities under the guise of producing hemp.”
Jill Todd, the manager of Total Tobacco Outlet, says she was the distributor of the plants.
She explains that her lawyers told her that the arrangement was legal and that she did nothing wrong.
She says she won’t be a distribution point until “all the legalities are figured out.”
“I was just informed that this was legal and I wasn’t trying to commit any wrongdoing or have any criminal motive,” she says. “I really hope this sets a precedent so that there is clear communication about what we can sell and what we can’t.”
Little says at his distribution location in Mankato, police responded but allowed him to continue.
Under the new law, you can use and possess marijuana if you’re 21 or older, but you can’t sell it. Business licenses will not be issued for many months.
Little, who says he has held a hemp license since 2018, hopes the law can be clarified in the future.
“We’re at a delicate time in Minnesota,” he says. “The laws are very ambiguous, very open to interpretation right now. So I’m thinking, what’s the best approach?