Honey, I got the state stoned

By Mike McGurran 

Editors Note: This story includes discussions of drug use and may contain foul language. While it has been edited through Associated Press Guidelines, some readers may find this offensive. This story was submitted to The Advocate through Chris Walker’s Digital Storytelling class, it is part of a ten-part series of stories examining Minnesota’s legalization of Marijuana. Each story investigates the background and implications that come with the legalization. The series, which began on April 28th, will run until May 5th.

Photo illustration by Abby Makay

This is a story about a loophole, hidden in an amendment, added to a bill. 

As of July 1 of 2022, intoxicating THC products derived from hemp are now legal to purchase and consume in Minnesota, apparently the result of confusion by state legislators about the new law’s actual effect. This gives Minnesota the dubious honor as the first state to accidentally legalize cannabis, or at least certain forms of them.

What’s legal, what isn’t

The hemp derived cannabidiol market exploded in late 2018, when Congress legalized hemp via the US Farm Bill. The bill defines hemp as a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC.   

While hemp contains small amounts of delta-9 THC, new regulations brought about by Minnesota’s HF 3595 bill allows a loophole. 

Minnesotans who are 21 or older can now buy delta-9 THC-infused edibles and beverages that contain no more than 5 milligrams per serving, and 50 milligrams per package, as long as the delta-9 component is derived from hemp. Five milligrams is about half the standard dose in recreational marijuana products in other states. 

The amendment was included in a health and human services funding bill.  It was initially intended as a way to better regulate delta-8 products, a previously unregulated, hemp derived cousin of sorts to marijuana. Hemp and CBD were previously legal in Minnesota, and products containing delta-8 were widely available across the state, as there were no legal standards around it. 

Cannabis contains delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, colloquially referred to as delta-9. While cannabis remains illegal in the state of Minnesota, the state has decriminalized personal possession of a “small amount” of marijuana. People with less than 42.5 grams of cannabis on their person face a misdemeanor charge and a $200 fine, but no jail time. Having larger quantities, or smaller quantities inside of a vehicle, can lead to heavier fines and the possibility of jail time.

Even though Hemp contains larger amounts of delta-8, the trace amounts of delta-9 that it contains are now legal in the state of Minnesota if following the regulation guidelines set about by the HF 3595 bill. The difference between delta-9 THC derived from hemp versus delta-9 THC derived from cannabis? There isn’t one. 

THC, delta-8 vs. delta-9

The newly legalized Minnesota products must be derived from legally certified hemp, which contains trace amounts of THC, a psychoactive compound found in both hemp and marijuana. The effects of THC can differ widely from person to person according to research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a branch of the National Institute of Health. Common effects include euphoria, a sense of relaxation, heightened sensory perception, altered perception of time, and an increased appetite. Pleasant effects of THC consumption are by no means universal. Some people report feelings of anxiety, fear, and paranoia. In rare occurrences, people who have taken large doses of THC may experience psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of personal identity. 

In scientific terms, the difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THC is the double bond where a specific carbon atom in the chain has two bonds positioned at different places on the chain. In its chemical structure, Delta 8 has an eighth carbon atom with a double bond, while Delta 9 contains a ninth carbon atom with a double bond. 

Both delta 8 and delta 9 have similar effects when consumed by humans. The primary difference between the two compounds lies in each one’s respective potencies.  According to the FDA, the potency of delta 9 is approximately twice that of delta 8. This means the intoxication potential in consuming Delta-9 is significantly higher than that of delta 8. However, users of delta 8 can feel overconsumption effects if they exceed their THC tolerance. 

How does a state accidentally legalize edibles

The short answer? Not reading the bill you’re voting on.

Representative Heather Edelson, an Edina Democrat representing district 49A who sponsored the legislation, says the law was meant to strengthen oversight in the emerging market. Previous law regulated the trace amounts of delta-9 thc in hemp and CBD products, but not of delta-8.

It remains unclear if the Republican controlled Minnesota Senate realized the law would legalize delta-9 THC edibles. Senator Michelle Benson, a Republican representing district 31, claims she “knew it would” legalize delta-9 THC, but hadn’t discussed it with Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller. She voted for the bill, but said she wished the state pharmacy board had realized the full impact of the law earlier. 

Senator Jim Abeler, a Republican representing district 35, admitted he didn’t realize the law would legalize delta-9 THC.

“I thought we were doing a technical fix, and it winded up having a broader impact than I expected,” he told the Star Tribune after the vote. He said at the time the Legislature should consider rolling the law back. 

The Star Tribune reports that after Abeler, along with a bipartisan conference committee of Minnesota House and Senate members voted unanimously for the amendment, Abeler said out loud “That doesn’t legalize marijuana, we didn’t just do that.” 

Representative Edelson reportedly replied, “Oh, are you kidding? Of course you have, of course you have. No, just kidding. We’ll do that next, okay?”

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