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Will cannabis supply meet Minnesota's legal weed demand? Concerns are growing.

Minnesota's marijuana growers await greenlight from lawmakers
Minnesota's marijuana growers await greenlight from lawmakers 01:56

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Retail sales for Minnesota's legal recreational cannabis market are tracked for early next year. But some activists who sought to change the law and others who want to cash in on cannabis worry that there won't be enough supply to meet high demand unless state regulators allow for early cultivation.

The process — from establishing a growing facility, to planting seeds and then finally to store shelves for sale — can take up to a year, said Jason Tarasek, an attorney specializing in cannabis at Vicente LLP. Right now, businesses would need to get a state license in order to get off the ground and the Minnesota Office of Cannabis Management is in the midst of setting rules for implementation, which could take awhile.

The fear from prospective business owners is that waiting until that process is complete will add further delays to the market launching. 

"I've had concerns that we're going to be a bit behind," Tarasek said. "So if we wait until rulemaking is finished to get plants in the ground, that's probably going to be first quarter second quarter 2025. Then we're looking at a market launch in 2026, potentially."

Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, tried to amend a bill Thursday night that makes changes to the budding industry to allow the office of cannabis management to set temporary guidelines for cultivation based on existing medical cannabis rules. That legislation allows for a license pre-approval process, so some businesses can get a head start with their plans before rules are finalized, but it does not go so far as to allow seeds in the ground earlier. 

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"What I see is we're going to run into an awful launch as it stands now," West said during floor debate.

His proposal was ultimately rejected by DFL lawmakers and the bill's author, Rep. Zack Stephenson, though he agreed that there is urgency to ensure rulemaking goes smoothly and quickly. 

He stressed that the state cannabis office has already started that process and cautioned that any temporary regulations could slow it down. 

"I think having multiple sets of rules — the current medical rules, these temporary rules, the official rules — will sow confusion and distract the office away from getting the actual rules out the door as quickly as possible," he told lawmakers.

But Thursday's vote is far from the end of the conversation about cannabis at the capitol this year. The Minnesota Senate is moving its own bill with updates to last year's sweeping shift in drug policy to make cannabis legal for adults 21 and older. 

Members from both chambers will likely convene on a panel to find a compromise by the end of session. 

Tarasek and others have met with the Office of Cannabis Management to push leaders to reconsider and advocate for early cultivation either by mirroring medical cannabis rules or authorizing a pilot project that grants some businesses the opportunity to start soon.

"I'm encouraged by what I'm hearing out of OCM and the DFL now," said Tarasek. Perhaps we are going to get plants in the ground sooner than maybe we thought even yesterday."

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