ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy on Monday announced it filed a civil lawsuit against three companies, alleging they have been selling and manufacturing THC edibles with a potency that far exceeds the legal limits.
State law only allows the sale of up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived THC per serving and 50 milligrams per container, but the board during an investigation found the Northland Vapor stores in Moorhead and Bemidji were selling "Death by Gummy Bears" that had 100 milligrams per serving and upwards of 50 times the legal limit in a single package.
The lawsuit alleges the businesses also violated state law because the gummies resemble products marketed to children, which is prohibited.
"To our fellow Minnesotans, we encourage you to be cautious when purchasing and consuming edible cannabinoid products," said Jill Phillips, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, noting the dosage caps. "THC products exceeding the limits may be extremely potent, making unintentional consumption and consumption by children especially dangerous."
The board is seeking a court order to destroy what is estimated to be what $7 million in retail product that violates state rules, Phillips said. State regulators began an investigation after the U.S. Food and Drug alerted them that an otherwise healthy 23-year-old consumed Northland Vapor edibles and unexpectedly died soon after, though the cause of death is undetermined.
The lawsuit names Northland Vapor Moorhead LLC, Northland Vapor Bemidji LLC and Wonky Confections LLC as defendants, all operated by Brad Erpelding.
WCCO reached Erpelding by text message and he pointed to a statement from his attorney, which said the companies attempted to work with the state to ensure compliance with the new law. Tyler Leverington, the attorney, characterized the lawsuit an "aggressive tactic" that's an effort to "smear" their reputation.
"There is no evidence of any harm arising from the proper use of Northland products. The state's effort to suggest otherwise are shameful," Leverington said in part. "Northland is a small business committed to making a quality product and now must fight for its life against over-zealous regulators in St. Paul looking to make a splash with their newly adopted law."
The products became legal July 1 to the surprise of some local elected officials,on sales in their communities. The legislature tasked the Board of Pharmacy with oversight over the THC products, but Phillips said because there are no state licenses required, the board is limited in its power to enforce rules and regulations.
Since August, there have been 46 complaints filed against edible manufactures, distributors and retailers, Phillips said. She revealed that the only way the board knows where products are sold is through those reports.
It's why she and others want lawmakers to pass "much more comprehensive legislation" next year.
"We need licensing, we need taxation, better regulation and enforcement," she said. "The board went on record last March in supporting the establishment of a cannabis management office or some sort of cannabis board that would oversee all aspects of this industry because right now it's very much lacking."
The board has 23 staff and five full-time employees who are dedicated to investigations. Those surveyors' work has more than doubled with the THC edibles now under the board's purview, Phillips said.
Carol Moss, an attorney at Hellmuth and Johnson, who specializes in cannabis law in Minnesota, said the step to sue by the Board of Pharmacy is significant.
"It reflects that they see this as a public health issue and as the industry continues to flourish, the industry will continue to work with regulators in order to have a very safe industry," Moss said. "Even with the restrictions that are put into place, there are still quite a bit of contradictions, gray areas, loopholes, that might make it difficult for businesses to ensure that they are following the letter of the law."
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