Minnesota sues to stop 'Death by Gummy Bears' THC edibles

Sign boards are shown to press members
Regulators say Northland Vapor and Wonky Confections have been selling Death by Gummy Bears edibles that contain as much as 100 milligrams of THC per serving, 20 times Minnesota’s legal limit per serving.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated 9:40 p.m.

The state of Minnesota is suing several companies for selling edible candies modeled after gummy bears that allegedly contained as much as 50 times the amount of THC allowed per package under state law.

The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy filed the lawsuit Monday in Clay County, in northwestern Minnesota, alleging that Northland Vapor and Wonky Confections are selling Death by Gummy Bears edibles that contain as much as 100 milligrams of THC per serving, 20 times Minnesota’s legal limit per serving. Northland Vapor has retail operations in Bemidji and Moorhead.

A person speaks to reporters
Jill Phillips, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, speaks to reporters Monday about her agency's move to stop the sale of gummy bear candies containing THC at levels far beyond what's allowed in state law.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“Due to the sheer quantity and the seriousness of the products, we moved quickly to embargo,” Jill Phillips, the pharmacy board’s executive director, told reporters Monday afternoon. The agency has oversight of hemp-derived cannabinoids.

Since wide-ranging THC product sales were allowed by a law change in July, the board has received 46 complaints that prompted investigations. This is the first time it’s gone to court to stop products from being sold, Phillips said.

THC is the chemical compound that gives cannabis its high. Experts say that much THC per serving is an “intensely intoxicating dose” which users should “consume with caution and intention.”

The Minnesota lawsuit says the owner of the companies, Brett Erpelding, acknowledged to investigators that they sold products that were not in compliance with Minnesota law but maintained the products were not sold in Minnesota.

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Investigators later visited the Moorhead store and found the products on store shelves.

State authorities allege Erpelding’s Moorhead-based warehouse possessed more than 140,000 packages of edibles that contain as much as 100 milligrams of THC per serving. Besides the Death by Gummy Bears brand, officials say another product under the brand name Wonky Weeds, also had THC beyond what the law allows.

The state wants the company to destroy the existing products, inform the state on where other products are sold in Minnesota and forbid the sale of the products in the future.

a man walks out of a building
Northland Vapor in Moorhead, Minn., is one of two stores that regulators say has been selling edibles with THC levels far higher than the state allows.
Dan Gunderson MPR | News

“We take this conduct seriously and we look forward to continuing our work together to protect Minnesotans by holding bad actors accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Hans Anderson, who filed the case on behalf of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.

The FDA first alerted the state board about potency concerns after getting reports of young people who became ill after consuming the gummies. Some needed hospital care.

Minnesota passed a law earlier this year that allowed for the sale of THC-infused edibles and drinks but said individual servings could not contain more than 5 milligrams of THC per serving.

Critics have said that Minnesota’s law doesn’t contain significant enforcement power, didn’t require manufacturers to be licensed and warned that many of the products may be unsafe for the public.

Sign boards are shown to members of the press
A Northland Vapor lawyer said there is no evidence of any harm arising from the proper use of its products and accused state regulators of smearing the company.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

The pharmacy board, in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has been investigating Erpelding’s companies after the FDA was notified in October that a healthy 23-year-old in West Virginia died shortly after consuming 10 Death by Gummy Bears brand items. The cause of death in the case was listed as undetermined.

In November, the FDA received another complaint where five high school students in Iowa were sickened after eating THC-infused products. Two of the students were sent to the emergency room, the complaint said.

Tyler Leverington, the attorney representing Northland Vapor, said late Monday the state’s inference that a Northland gummy resulted in a death was unsubstantiated, and that the Board of Pharmacy was attempting “to smear Northland’s reputation.”

In a statement, Leverington characterized the company as a small, family-owned business employing more than 60 people. He said the company tried to work with the state to comply with the new law but the board opted to work with other cannabis businesses and not with Northland.

“Simply put, there is no evidence of any harm arising from the proper use of Northland products,” Leverington said. “The state’s efforts to suggest otherwise are shameful."