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Initial step to secure first cannabis business licenses in Minnesota begins Monday. Here's what you need to know

Some Minnesotans can now apply for cannabis business licenses
Some Minnesotans can now apply for cannabis business licenses 00:52

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Certain Minnesotans — like veterans and people convicted of cannabis possession before it became legal — can begin the application process on Monday to secure the first cannabis business licenses in the state.

The Minnesota Legislature this year signed off on a "preapproval" licensing process for the Office of Cannabis Management, allowing regulators to give the green light to some businesses sooner rather than later to plan accordingly — even as rulemaking continues in anticipation of a market launch in 2025.

The first step in that process — verifying that someone meets the criteria to get an early license — has begun. 

Who can apply for the early, "pre-approved" licenses?

In order to qualify, Minnesotans need to meet the criteria of a "social equity applicant." Those include veterans, farmers just starting their careers in agriculture, residents from neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and people convicted of certain possession or sale of cannabis before lawmakers legalized it last year, among others. 

State regulators will first vet applications to make sure individuals qualify. If verified as a social equity applicant, Minnesotans can apply for the license. That portal opens a month later on July 24  and applicants need to supply all information necessary according to statute, including detailed plans for operating the business, employee training, security and overall experience in the industry. 

Then will be a lottery in which licensees who meet the criteria are chosen at random — a provision that sparked fierce debate at the capitol this year.

Interim director of the Office of Cannabis Management Charlene Briner defended the process, which was updated this year by state lawmakers, as a way to ensure that it's fair and will withstand legal challenges.   

Minnesota's interim Cannabis Chief talks about license rollout 01:49

"We're going to have a comprehensive process and review teams looking to make sure that the license is complete —that all of the attachments, all of the additional requirements that need to be submitted that were specified in law, that all of those had been met and that everything is in order," she told WCCO in an interview Tuesday. "So this is not something that's just a random lottery. This is really gauging among prepared, qualified applicants."

Nick Rahn, owner of The Warrior's Garden selling hemp-derived THC and CBD products, is among the 327,000 Minnesota veterans who are considered social equity applicants. He is eager to seek a preapproved license and intends to apply this summer.

"Because I'm a veteran, I can apply early, which is great, especially the fact that we're already open and we intend to be a cannabis dispensary. It's going to make me feel a lot better if we get the license early so we can be prepared for Jan. 1, when everything goes into motion."

How many of these licenses are available?

State law caps the number of licenses offered in the pre-approval process:

  • Cannabis microbusiness: 100

  • Cannabis mezzobusiness: 25

  • Cannabis cultivators: 13

  • Cannabis manufacturers: 6

  • Cannabis retailers (dispensaries): 38

  • Cannabis wholesalers: 20

  • Cannabis transporter: 20

  • Cannabis testing: 50

  • Cannabis delivery: 10

Getting a pre-approved license does not mean retail stores can sell marijuana flowers and products any sooner than when the rulemaking process is complete and the market officially launches next year. 

But cultivators and mezzo- and micro-businesses given the green light early can begin growing commercial crops as soon as this fall, Briner said, if local governments also OK plans and if the businesses apply with rules already in place for medical cannabis. That was a change by the legislature this year in order to meet demand as soon as retail stores can open their doors. 

"We want to make sure that we're getting at least a number of months head start for the product to be grown, to be cultivated, to be processed so that there is actually product on retail shelves when they are authorized to open," Briner explained.

When can someone apply for the cannabis business licenses?

The Office of Cannabis Management is accepting applications to screen in order to determine if they qualify as social equity applicants starting on Monday, according to a timeline from regulators.

Then the portal to apply for a license preapproval will open July 24 and close Aug. 12. The office will then notify applicants if they were selected.

License applications for the general public who don't meet social equity criteria will open next year. 

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