Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

As state government rolls out legal cannabis, nonprofit works to prepare people to enter the market

Cannabis classroom
Minnesota Cannabis College host several educational workshops to teach people how to grow cannabis or start a cannabis business.
Courtesy Minnesota Cannabis College

The Office of Cannabis Management will hold the inaugural meeting of its Cannabis Advisory Council Friday. The council, which was created as part of the new cannabis law, will review policy and make recommendations to the state office.

While that is happening on the state level, there is also a grassroots nonprofit informing the community about the rollout of all aspects of legalization. Minnesota Cannabis College Founder Tanner Berris joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about it.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: This coming Friday, the Office of Cannabis Management will hold the inaugural meeting of its cannabis advisory council. Now, the council was created as part of the new state cannabis law, and it will review policy and make recommendations to the state office.

While that's happening on the state level, there is a grassroots nonprofit that's keeping a close eye to help keep the community informed about the implementation of all aspects of the legalization process. It's called the Minnesota Cannabis College. Joining us right now is the founder Tanner Berris. Tanner, welcome.

TANNER BERRIS: Thank you so much for having me, Cathy. I really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Well, I appreciate your time. So I understand that you started the Cannabis College actually before legalization in 2020. I'm curious as to why you started it at that time.

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, absolutely. So me and a group of activists have been working for a number of years to help change the law in Minnesota to make it move towards legalization. We saw, looking at other states like Colorado and Michigan, this really big influx of jobs that come after legalization, but they're not really being the support network there to help ensure people have the training they need to succeed.

There's tons of people that have a passion for the industry. Maybe they've been working on that legacy side. Maybe they've been in consumer, and they're looking at legalization as their potential entry to the market. But we need to make sure that there are those supports there to help those people be successful when they do enter the market.

So we wanted to sort of pre-legalization a little bit, help set up here in the state to make sure that we're able to support some of the amazing employees and entrepreneurs of our future industry.

CATHY WURZER: What kind of education are you providing?

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, for sure. So we have a couple different types of education. I think the biggest one that people have been connecting with recently is our cultivation education, so teaching people how to grow cannabis. Well, a lot of that focuses on the home growth side because that's what people can really be getting their hands on with today.

The education is highly transferable, and most of our classes are geared towards that commercial cultivation side. The other type of education that we're doing is just basic business education. Like I said, there's a lot of people that are really passionate but maybe have never actually managed a legally compliant business before. We want to be here to help those people be successful.

So business side, cultivation side, and then also just helping people to prepare for what does it look like to engage with community leaders, to engage with lawmakers, city council members, all of that. So lots of education to be done, for sure.

CATHY WURZER: So the cultivation part of the equation sounds like it's more difficult than people think it is. Is that right?

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, so I think it's sort of how you're looking at it, sort of like tomatoes, if you wanted to throw seeds in the backyard, see what you get from it. I really think it's something that pretty much anyone can do. Where it gets a little bit more tricky is when you look on that commercial side. So sort of using tomatoes as an example, everyone can throw some seeds in their backyard. Not everyone has the skills to be able to go work in, like, a commercial cultivation facility, and cannabis is the exact same way.

So can people grow cannabis at home? Yeah, and we found a lot of beginners that are starting to make that entryway. But when you're looking at how to actually get the maximum yield from your plant, when you're looking at how to take the square footage that you're allowed to have under a micro or meso or cultivator license, and really push that to get the maximum product from it.

CATHY WURZER: So you are helping people prepare to get a license should they decide to do something like that.

TANNER BERRIS: Exactly, yeah. There's lots of people that, very frankly, have been cultivating for years here in Minnesota. We want to help provide them a route to being able to do it legally here in the state.

CATHY WURZER: So I understand you're partnering with Minnesota, the state, even to be kind of a community bridge as it were.

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, absolutely. So the state's been doing a really great job of figuring out sort of what does regulation look like, especially in this in-between time before full legalization really kicks in and we have stores open. But there's been a lot of questions that business owners have. The regulations have changed a lot over the past couple of years.

So really, we really want to be that support where the state has the regulation, the business owners have the questions, how can we sort of bridge that gap, as you said. So we have an online training program that's available for businesses to train their employees. It's a super low cost. Our goal is just to get that training and compliance out to people.

But yeah, as you mentioned, we also worked with the Minnesota Department of Health to get their current inspectors that are doing that inspection process out to the businesses to frankly teach them a little bit more about what compliant products look like and what they need to be keeping their eyes on to make sure that their retail store is following the laws in Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: I know you have a podcast that also efforts to bring folks information. You have a lot of interviews on that. I know you interviewed Erin DuPree--

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah.

CATHY WURZER: --right after she resigned.

TANNER BERRIS: So we stand on the shoulders of giants, like MPR and other journalist organizations. But yeah, really try to help put a lens on some of the things happening in our industry. We had a group chat among sort of our team that kept going back and forth on, hey, have you seen this new product? Or, hey, this new business just started. Or whatever be it, and eventually it got to the point that we just we wanted to tell others about it.

So I've been doing that podcast for about a year now. We're on a weekly basis or wherever podcasts can be found on YouTube, all of that, but really just try to help highlight some of the stories of the Minnesotans that are making our cannabis industry possible.

CATHY WURZER: We've talked to Charlene Briner, the interim director of Cannabis Management, as she is trying to get things together for the rollout. But as you know, the state's still looking for that permanent new director, and they still are in that process. What do you want to see in a director?

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, so I think what we've been seeing in Charlene is great. I listened to the interview that you did with her last week. I thought that was super awesome hearing her talk about the importance of equity, when we look at setting up our industry. I think what's going to be really important to look for in the future, especially in a new director, is someone that doesn't just sort of talk the talk but then actually walk the walk.

So saying social equity is important, saying early applications are important is great. And I think what we've seen from our current OCM interim director is that action of moving forward through the legislature, saying these are the changes we need to make. I think with our next director, it should just be someone who's willing to take similar steps to help set up our industry and make sure they're listening to all of the many stakeholders that make up cannabis.

It's an interesting industry where you have health care and also people that have been frankly skirting the law for the last couple of decades now coming together into one community. And we need a director that will be able to balance the interests of both. So I don't know exactly who that person is, but man, they sure have a difficult job ahead of them.

CATHY WURZER: So I wonder before you go here, Tanner, what are your thoughts? Do you worry about the corporatization of cannabis in the state of Minnesota, big, well-funded individuals and organizations swooping in?

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, I think that's a great question. So on the activism side, we worked for years to make sure that we had an easy route for Minnesotans to be able to enter the industry. I think what's going to be particularly tricky, and I think that your question leaned towards, is making sure that those Minnesotans that get a spot at the industry aren't bought out or gobbled up by other organizations.

I think looking at other states, it's been a big concern. So I hope that regulators here in Minnesota, along with the cannabis community, continue working forward to make sure that we have our tight-knit community and sort of keep a look on each other. Canna Connect is an organization here that does networking-style events. I think those type of events are really what's going to be important to helping us to build our industry.

It's not just going to be people coming in from out of state but actually people in the state here building something up that I'm really excited to see.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Tanner, appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

TANNER BERRIS: Yeah, Thank you so much, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Tanner Berris is the founder of the Minnesota Cannabis College.

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