Ready, set, grow: Minnesota to enter era of legal marijuana

four marijuana plants are seen
A high-tech grow tent in a suburban Minneapolis home will soon be home to four marijuana plants.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

In the lower level of an upscale suburban Minneapolis home, a newly assembled grow-your-own marijuana operation is ready for seeds.

“It’s called a grow tent. Mine’s four-foot-by-four-foot,” says the homeowner Tyler, who didn’t want his full name used. “I’m doing four plants, so I have four buckets in there, kind of getting ready for the grow. And I’m ready for Aug. 1.”

The setup is intended to grow plants with nutrient-enriched water rather than soil. The black “tent” is lined with space-age looking reflective material. There are fans, air exchangers, a humidifier, a dehumidifier and all kinds of other components. It’s clear Tyler, who works as a mechanical engineer, has put a lot of time and money into the project.

A person works at the lab
Tyler a 32-year-old who lives in suburban Minneapolis, put together a sophisticated grow tent that will soon be home to several marijuana plants allowed under Minnesota law starting Aug. 1.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“I’m 32 years old, and, you know, marijuana has been around my entire life,” Tyler said. “And it’s kind of just been an alternative to alcohol.”

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As for why he didn’t want his full name and picture published, “There’s still stigma,” Tyler said.

He expects his first harvest in November.

Minnesota Democrats have been pushing for legalized adult-use recreational marijuana for several years. They were finally able to pass it in the last legislative session because they controlled the state House, Senate and governor’s office.

“A lot of Minnesotans have wanted this for a very long time,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, who shepherded through the final bill.

“You can have up to two ounces of cannabis wherever you are and up to two pounds in your own personal home,” Stephenson explained about the part of the law that takes effect Tuesday. “You can also grow cannabis at home up to eight plants, four of which can be flowering at any time.”

But even though growing, possessing and using cannabis will be legal for people 21 and older on Aug. 1, you still won’t be able to buy marijuana from a licensed dealer in most of the state. It will likely be more than a year before dispensaries begin opening. Democrats say they framed their bill that way so regulators would have enough time to develop rules for recreational marijuana sales.

Critics say allowing possession of so much marijuana without also allowing its sale will be a boon for unlawful and unregulated black market sellers.

James Stuart is executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association and a retired Anoka County Sheriff.

With three decades of law enforcement experience, Stuart is convinced that sophisticated grow operations, even following the state law eight plant limit, could easily produce massive volumes of marijuana.

“We anticipate increased crash rates, hospital visits, increased youth usage and accidental ingestion, as well as a dramatic increase in black market activity,” Stuart said. “One plant could probably provide enough marijuana for a mobile home park.”

A person poses for a portrait
James Stuart, the executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, is convinced that sophisticated grow operations, even following the state law eight plant limit, could easily produce massive volumes of marijuana.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“There’s a very credible argument to what the sheriff is saying,” said Rep. Nolan West of Blaine, one of only five Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature who voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

West said he thinks the lag time between legal possession and legal sales will boost the black market. But over time, he said he thinks cannabis sales will shift to regulated retail establishments.

“Ending marijuana prohibition was definitely the right policy to go with,” West said.

Retailers have already been legally selling hemp-derived THC edibles and beverages in Minnesota for more than a year. The new law requires them to register with the state and sell only to adults. It also allows liquor stores to sell those products.

Agree or disagree with the new law, Stuart advised adults to use all of the attention around the law change to talk to young people about why using drugs is not a good idea.

“Have clear conversations of expectations with any youth that’s important to you, whether it’s your kid, your grandkid, or the neighbor’s kids,” Stuart said. “Help them to understand what you think is appropriate and acceptable because, contrary to popular belief, they are listening.”

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