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Duluth, St. Louis County wrestle with whether, how to oversee sales of THC edibles

The Minnesota Legislature has left regulation up to local units of government.

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A customer shows the products she bought from Nothing But Hemp in St. Paul. Some of the products contain THC, which became legal under 5 milligrams per serving in Minnesota on Friday, July 1, 2022.
Grace Birnstengel | MPR News
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DULUTH — City and St. Louis County officials are still not sure how to respond to the Minnesota Legislature's recent decision to make the sale of certain types of cannabis-derived foods and candies legal.

The News Tribune asked Duluth city administration what role, if any, local government intends to play in regulating, licensing or otherwise overseeing sales of THC edibles in the city going forward.

Phil Jents, Duluth's communications and policy officer, responded: "We are asking this very question internally and should know more soon."

Duluth City Council President Arik Forsman said he intends to ask city staff for their thoughts on the best path forward.

Arik Forsman portrait
Arik Forsman
Lynnette's Portrait Design

"It was certainly a surprise for everyone that edible marijuana products had been legalized, even for many of the legislators who passed the bill," Forsman said. "I do think it's a step in the right direction for the state as a whole. But it obviously does throw the question to local governments about if they're going to do anything about it."

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"I think it's unclear right now what that might look like. But certainly the city does regulate other like-entities," he said pointing to local licensing and oversight of alcohol and tobacco product sales.

At large Councilor Noah Hobbs, who oversees the city's purchasing and licensing committee, said: "I think the city will license it in the same way that we allocate liquor and tobacco licenses and all of that. "

"We want to make sure that it's controlled and we're tracking it to make sure it's not being sold to kids and only to people who are 21 and older. So, I think we will do some sort of licensing in the near future," he said.

St. Louis County officials were unavailable to talk Thursday.

Matt Massman, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Counties, said the group, which is made of of Minnesota's 15 largest and fastest-growing counties outside of the Twin Cities, has not yet provided information or guidance to its members, other than to steer members toward the bill that governs future sales of the mind-altering products.

"We're still in the process of learning about all of the implications of the law," Massman said.

Patricia Beety, general counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities, said members are working to get their arms around the unexpected legalization of THC edibles.

In a written statement, she said: “Cities are nimble and working quickly to review and respond to the new law and evaluate the unique needs of their communities. City leaders bring considerable expertise in regulatory considerations to the table, and League staff will be listening to the policymakers in our city halls to help shape the path forward in a way that is thoughtful and timely."

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"As our understanding of the issues develops, the League is committed to working with stakeholders and lawmakers to help cities navigate legal and regulatory issues. We are working to gain clarity on the law and what this regulatory authority looks like so that we can provide sound information in the coming days and weeks,” her statement concluded.

Donald Reeder, public affairs coordinator for the League, said a number of cities have contacted the organization in recent days, in hopes of developing some possible best practices to effectively deal with this new and unanticipated challenge.

"To date, about a couple dozen cities have expressed interest in working directly with the League on possible approaches. Although cities have a history of being nimble to respond, having not been included at the table when this law was passed requires them to pause for now and take some time to study and evaluate," he said.

Hobbs said cities are far too often left to their own devices in responding to unforeseen changes.

Noah Hobbs mug.jpg
Noah Hobbs

"It's been kind of a concerning trend that the state is pushing more and more of the responsibility onto municipalities and localities to figure out how to regulate and provide solutions for the issues that we're facing. So, I think it's sort of par for the course that the state is leaving it up to municipalities to figure out how to best implement this. I'm not surprised, and I'm slightly disappointed. But I think we'll figure it out pretty quickly," he said.

Hobbs said local governments will be under the gun to act swiftly.

"Once the genie is out of the bottle, it's hard to put it back in. If gummies are showing up in stores and then all of a sudden they need to be licensed, it would cause a little bit more heartburn if we ask them to pull back. So, we want to be as quick as possible to create a framework from which businesses understand they will need to operate," he said.

"It becomes almost a case of competing interests, when there's a need for expediency and thoughtfulness on something that I don't think many people were tracking," Hobbs said.

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Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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