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Minnesota legalized THC edibles and infused drinks ... by accident?


On Friday, edibles and drinks infused with the cannabis ingredient THC - that's the ingredient that gets you high - became legal in Minnesota. Many are saying the state has now all but legalized cannabis, despite Senate Republicans' opposition to recreational marijuana legalization. So since the state Senate is GOP-controlled, was this an accident? Ryan Faircloth covers Minnesota politics and government for the Star Tribune, and he joins us now.

RYAN FAIRCLOTH: Hi. How's it going?

BOND: So first, tell us what exactly is now legal in Minnesota?

FAIRCLOTH: OK. So edibles with THC that's derived from legally certified hemp, which contains trace amounts of THC, are now legal. But the new law permits five milligrams per edible of THC. So whether that's derived from hemp that doesn't have much THC or marijuana that has a lot of it, five milligrams is five milligrams, right? You know, there's no limits on how many you can take at a time, how many packages you can buy. You might be spending a little bit more to get the high you're wanting, but these will, in essence, be the same as what you could find in another state.

BOND: Right. So you can't smoke it or vape it, but you can eat it.

FAIRCLOTH: Right. Right.

BOND: And so we've been seeing headlines saying this law passed accidentally. And you wrote, it's possible that Minnesota's Republican-controlled Senate may not have realized that the law would legalize edibles when they signed off on it. So what exactly happened here?

FAIRCLOTH: Yeah, the Republicans in the Senate, they have opposed recreational marijuana legalization. So, yeah, this year, both chambers were looking at a broad set of, like, hemp industry reforms, making sure that, like, CBD products and delta-8 THC products, which are a little bit different than the normal delta-9 THC products - they wanted to make sure that they were a little bit more tightly regulated 'cause, you know, this whole market in a lot of states is still a little bit of a Wild West at times.

BOND: Right. Right.

FAIRCLOTH: So, yeah, Republicans in the Senate, they did not give hearings specifically to the language that was in the House bill, which would allow five milligrams of any type of THC in edibles per serving and then 50 milligrams per package. Senate Republicans didn't have that in their bill. So, of course, they didn't give it hearings. And then when they came together at the end of session - when lawmakers are also pretty tired, by the way - and they were merging bills together, this got merged into the final bill. And at least one Senate Republican who helped oversee the merging of the two Health and Human Services bills said he didn't realize they were doing this.

BOND: Wow. I mean, he said they didn't realize they were doing this. That's a pretty stunning admission.

FAIRCLOTH: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It is.

BOND: So this law only just went into effect, but what has the reaction been across the state so far?

FAIRCLOTH: I've been looking at social media quite a bit. A lot of people have laughed about this 'cause they're like, how did we just almost stumble into a light version of legalization...

BOND: Right.

FAIRCLOTH: ...Right? - with having edibles only. So, you know, there's been a lot of jokes about it. And then there's been a lot of excitement, too. I mean, there were lines out the doors of CBD and hemp shops that started selling THC-infused edibles on Friday when the law took effect - I mean, lines of a few dozen people. And people in line were even kind of laughing about it and saying they couldn't believe this happened. And, you know, a few even said, I feel like, why not just take the next step? It feels like legalization is inevitable of recreational marijuana.

BOND: Right. And so is that what's going to come next? Are we moving closer to possible total recreational legalization in Minnesota?

FAIRCLOTH: It depends on the political control, of course, what happens this November. So as long as we have a divided legislature, I would say the answer is no, it's not going to happen. Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, will sign a bill if he gets one on legalization. But, you know, it has to get to his desk in the first place. That all depends on where the state goes politically in November.

BOND: Well, we'll watch out for it. Ryan Faircloth, reporter for the Star Tribune, thanks so much for joining us.

FAIRCLOTH: Yeah, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.