Minnesota House Dems hope to fully legalized marijuana after sneaking THC edible provision past their GOP colleagues

House Democrats responsible for legalizing low-dose THC products said on Tuesday the under-the-radar approach that seemingly took Republicans by surprise was a necessary gambit to fully legalizing marijuana in the future.

“We absolutely did this on purpose. It was an intentional step forward,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who authored another bill that fully legalized marijuana but failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The provision was tucked into a large health and human services bill and legalizes the production and sale of edible products with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. The food and beverages can only be sold to people over 21 and with no more than 5 milligrams of THC per serving — about half the dose allowed in other states with legal marijuana — or 50 milligrams per package.

It was signed into law by the governor in early June but went largely unnoticed by the public until the day before it went into effect on July 1.

“Sometimes legislation benefits from a lot of publicity. Sometimes legislation benefits from the ability to do the work more quietly, but it was all done in the public eye,” Winkler said when asked why Democrats didn’t publicize a bill they’re now all celebrating.

Republicans have responded both with surprise and subdued approval.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said it has a “broader effect” than he expected. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said in a statement he supported the “bipartisan legislation” that regulates the sale of products with THC.

The law has few restrictions on the sale — virtually any store can sell THC edibles — but does prohibit the edibles from looking like cartoon characters, animals or fruit so as not to make them attractive to kids. The products must also come in child-resistant packages.

But already there are problems with THC products looking too much like candy — they are sold as gummies and chocolates — according to the bill’s author, Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina.

“Later this week, I’ll be having more information about how we plan to handle that as a state,” Edelson said during the Tuesday news conference. “There’s going to be some problems in terms of how do we enforce this.”

Edelson said she and her fellow lawmakers are working with the League of Minnesota Cities, indicating they will ask local governments play an active role in regulating THC edibles. The state Legislature is not in session and the governor would have to call a special session to pass any updates to the law.

The Board of Pharmacy, which mostly oversees licensing pharmacists and pharmacies, is tasked with regulating the potency, packaging and age requirements of the new products. It’s a large task for an agency that has fewer than two dozen employees.

The Democrats’ answer to any problems with the current law is to vote more of them into office this November, promising to pass full legalization if they control the House, Senate and governorship.

“The right thing to do is to elect Democrats, send us back to St. Paul so that we can continue working on this important issue,” said Rep. Jess Hanson, DFL-Burnsville.

The House Democrats, joined by activists and a hemp farmer, held the news conference outside Indeed Brewing in northeast Minneapolis, which Winkler suggested could benefit from selling beverages with THC.

The guidance from the Board of Pharmacy, however, says restaurants and bars may not add THC to food or beverages for onsite or take away consumption. THC also may not be added to beer or other alcoholic beverages.

Democrats emphasized the foot-in-the-door legalization bill furthers racial justice, as Black and Indigenous people have been disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for marijuana crimes.

The law, however, doesn’t do anything to explicitly advance racial equity, such as giving licensing priority or grants to people from areas that were targeted in the War on Drugs — although those efforts have largely floundered elsewhere in the country. That means people with capital and relationships to financial lenders and existing THC businesses will likely dominate the Minnesota legal marijuana market.

Angela Dawson, a Black hemp farmer from Pine County, said the law isn’t perfect, but it will create more opportunities for people of color.

“We’re working with the scraps we’re given, quite frankly,” Dawson said. “We’re going to continue to push (an) equity agenda. We’re going to ask Minnesota to also be advocates for equity within this system.”

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.

No charges filed against police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke in botched no-knock raid

The Minnesota attorney general and Hennepin County attorney will not charge the Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke during a botched no-knock raid in February.

“Amir Locke’s life mattered … Amir Locke is a victim,” reads a joint statement released on Wednesday. “However, there is insufficient admissible evidence to file criminal charges in this case.”

Locke’s killing in the early hours of Feb. 2 set off several days of protests and efforts at both the city and state level to ban no-knock search warrants.

Locke was not a suspect in a crime or named in the search warrants. He was lying on a couch under a blanket when a Minneapolis SWAT team raided the apartment he was staying in. In less than 10 seconds, officers approached Locke yelling “Police! Search warrant!”

Then an officer’s police light illuminated Locke’s face and showed a gun in his hand before an officer shot him three times and Locke crumpled, according to body camera footage released in the days after the killing.

The chaotic and confusing scene that ended tragically in mere seconds led to calls for the officer who killed him, Mark Hanneman, to be criminally charged.

But Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in the statement that Hanneman did not violate the state’s use-of-deadly-force law.

Police officers are allowed to kill if they reasonably believe it necessary to protect themselves or other officers from great bodily harm without consideration for the victim’s intent.

“The officers encountered an individual unknown to them … who was moving around under a blanket and held out a firearm that was pointed in the direction of at least one officer. This constitutes a specifically articulable threat,” the statement reads.

The prosecutors note that the SWAT team was executing a warrant on behalf of St. Paul police in a homicide investigation. High-powered rounds had been used in the killing, and the suspects “were known to possess firearms and engage in violent conduct.”

“These circumstances are such that an objectively reasonable officer in Officer Hanneman’s position would have perceived an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm that was reasonably likely to occur, and an objectively reasonable officer would not delay in using deadly force,” the statement reads.

Locke’s family expressed disappointment in the decision but vowed to pursue justice in the civil court system, although they have not yet filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and Hanneman.

“Today only deepens the resolve of Amir’s family and its legal team,” reads a statement released by the law firm of Ben Crump, who also represented the families of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Breonna Taylor.

Ellison and Freeman, in announcing their decision, urged lawmakers to “seriously weigh the benefits of no-knock warrants, which are dangerous for both law enforcement and the public alike.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, whose re-election campaign claimed he had already banned no-knock warrants, announced on Tuesday that the city had enacted a ban on requesting and executing no-knock search warrants.

Minnesota House Democrats have also moved forward with a ban on no-knock warrants.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: info@minnesotareformer.com. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.