Politics and Government

Local businesses prep for legal cannabis plants, possession come August

Shops are eager to sell growers what they need, but its unclear where to get seeds.

One of several varieties of industrial hemp plants at a research plot.
Cannabis is soon to be legal in Minnesota and local businesses are seeing a surge in residents purchasing growing gear.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

Ian Deshon has been waiting nearly a decade for cannabis legalization in Minnesota.

“We opened the store over nine years ago thinking this law was going to change you know, right around the corner and now we're here nine years later and it really has. So we're super excited to see where it goes,” he said.

Deshon owns Greener Gardens in Richfield, Minn. He sells all of the gear to grow cannabis and has been seeing a bump in business.

“The new faces that come into the store these days are brand new growers that are coming out because this bill is passed,” said Deshon

On Aug. 1, Minnesotans will be allowed to grow up to eight cannabis plants at home.

Deshon estimates that lights, ventilation and other equipment for that size of grow operation will cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500.

But there is one thing he can’t sell — cannabis seed.

“We have been selling seed on and off for the past couple of years,” he said. “And maybe a month ago, the department of ag paid us a visit essentially saying that it wasn't OK.”

Hazy regulation

The federal law that allows hemp production permits the sale of cannabis material that doesn't exceed 0.3 percent THC.

THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis. And hemp crops that exceed that level are destroyed. Since seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, Deshon rationalized it was legal to sell them. That wasn’t the case.

There are a lot of cannabis seed vendors selling online and Minnesotans have been buying those seeds for years, said Tanner Berris. Technically it's illegal under federal law, but the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has issued guidance indicating it will not take enforcement action on seed sales.

“It appears as though no one will be able to legally acquire these genetics, but also everyone's going to,” said Berris who runs the two-year-old Minnesota Cannabis College. The organization is gearing up to train cannabis industry workers and home growers.

“I think we're going to see that all sort of figured out live, if businesses are gonna be stopped through cease and desist letters or if they'll be allowed to continue operating,” he said.

Bob and Erin Walloch are starting a new business called CannajoyMN.

“Is there any legal pathway today that someone could sell a seed? It seems to us that there's not,” said Bob Walloch. “It’s a gray area and we’re working with our own legal counsel and have reached out to the department of ag for guidance.”

LeafLine Labs
Marijuana plants are grown at LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2017

Seed sales, future planning

The state officials in charge of creating regulations for cannabis seed sales says to relax, and be patient.

“It's correct to say that marijuana is not legal at the federal level, and that the federal organizations regulate the interstate movement of seed, but you know, the DEA is not going to be involved in stopping the sale of seed,” said Denise Thiede, section manager for Seed, Noxious Weed, Hemp and Biotechnology at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “It really comes down to how we would handle that matter here in Minnesota.”

The state will require a permit to sell seed and there will be labeling requirements for businesses in Minnesota and those selling online to Minnesota residents. Those labels help ensure seed quality, and in this case an additional concern is avoiding confusion between hemp seeds and cannabis seeds.

Thiede said the agriculture department would like to see THC levels of the cannabis plant that produced the seed be included on the seed label. That's already required for hemp seeds because growers must keep THC levels below 0.3 percent, but it wasn’t addressed in the cannabis law.

“We don't have any statutory language about the requirement to test for THC and demonstrate that it actually produces a certain percentage of THC,” Thiede said. “But at this point, I do not believe there would be any requirement for total THC testing of those parent plants.”

Those details will be worked out as soon as possible and posted on the website for the new Office of Cannabis Management she said, along with the more complicated regulation of the commercial cannabis industry expected to be operational in early 2025.

The agriculture department is also tasked with creating the new Office of Cannabis Management.

“There's a lot of pieces here that we're trying to unpack,” said Andrea Vaubel, deputy commissioner. “It's not every day that we're standing up a new agency. So it's certainly an adventure for us to try and figure out what that's going to look like.”

Marijuana plants
Marijuana plants grow at LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2017

The first goal is to hire an executive director for the new agency by late summer or early fall. There are some aggressive timelines for establishing the regulations required in the new law and anticipating other regulatory issues that might come up.

“We have been clear that we as the department of agriculture will not be regulating the new adult use cannabis industry,” Vaubel said. “So I don't anticipate the department will be making large regulatory decisions as it pertains to the regulation of adult use cannabis.”

And the agency wants to make sure hemp producers in the state don’t run into complications as the new cannabis regulations are developed. The agriculture department will lead the process until the cannabis agency is ready to take over.

Growing at home

If you plan to start home growing cannabis on Aug. 1, some things to know:

The plants need to be in an enclosed, locked area, whether that's an outdoor greenhouse or an indoor setup. Eight plants is the limit and only four can be mature at any time.

There will be plenty of training opportunities as businesses try to engage new customers.

“But honestly, in terms of growing cannabis, it's similar advice that I would give someone if they told me they were interested in starting to grow basil,” said Berris. “And that's just to give it a try. Cannabis was called a weed for many years because at the end of the day it grows like a weed. It's a pretty easy plant to grow."

With the opening of adult use cannabis dispensaries likely more than a year away, Berris expects many Minnesotans will at least try their hand at home cannabis production.

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