Cannabis company founder picked to oversee Minnesota marijuana market

Cannabis in jar
Cannabis in a jar at the NativeCare dispensary at the Red Lake Nation on Aug. 1.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

Updated: 2:05 p.m.

Minnesota’s marijuana regulatory agency will be led by Erin DuPree, who founded a low-dose THC company she will leave behind to oversee the state’s move to a legal market for full-fledged cannabis products.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday named DuPree the first executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management. Walz said his appointee “is a proven and effective leader, who will be successful in standing up Minnesota’s new adult-use cannabis market and helping Minnesotans succeed in the industry.”  

portrait of a woman
Erin DuPree is the first leader of Minnesota’s Office of Cannabis Management.
Courtesy photo

In that role, DuPree will take charge in refining and enforcing boundaries around aspects of marijuana from growth to sale. DuPree, 43, said in an interview that she has a firm grasp of the cannabis landscape having founded Loonacy Cannabis Co. and done other business consulting for about two decades.

“I’m a good fit because I am young enough to be able to connect with the people who are going to be actively entering this industry as we create it,” DuPree said. “But I'm experienced enough to deal with the real problems that businesses are going to run into trying to be a part of this industry. I am here to not only serve Minnesotans but to serve Minnesota businesses.” 

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Loonacy, which had a store in Apple Valley, Minn., offered low-dose hemp products, including edibles and beverages. It will close because Dupree will be moving to the regulatory side.

DuPree said Thursday that she’s familiar with the regulatory side of cannabis and her lack of prior government service might be an asset.

“Because I don't have a background in that I don't have any baggage,” she said. “You know, I'm coming here with an open mind and ready to work with everybody.”

When she begins the assignment in early October, she’ll be building an agency from the ground up. She’ll start by filling an initial nine positions and eventually 150 employees. 

“It is a big job,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids. He helped write the law that made possession and use of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older this August.

Rather than assign oversight to several agencies, the law’s sponsors created the new entity to set rules, review license applications and ensure what’s sold is within potency limits.

“They will immediately take over that and shepherd that process through so that we can have a legal marketplace up and running as expeditiously as possible so that that rulemaking process can take place,” Stephenson said. “It’s really going to set the framework for how our legal cannabis industry is going to look in Minnesota.”

DuPree met Wednesday night with some of the lawmakers who wrote the marijuana law. Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville said there will be a lot of focus on the marijuana office buildout, but she’s hopeful her colleagues afford DuPree some latitude.

“As it expands down the road, it will probably start to look more like other agencies,” Port said. “But it's, I think, in the first couple of years, going to feel more like kind of a scrappy startup. It's going to have to do a lot of work really quickly. And we laid out a really aggressive timeline to get sales, license sales, testing—all of that up online.”

While some American Indian tribes have begun selling marijuana products, a full retail market is likely a year or more away. State officials have said they expect broad sales to start in early 2025.

When the Office of Cannabis Management position opened in July, 150 people submitted applications. The field was narrowed substantially before Walz interviewed finalists and made his selection.

Dr. Clemon Dabney, a molecular scientist in the area of cannabinoid research, was the other person interviewed for the post, according to the governor’s office.

The job posting sought a director to guide efforts around compliance, licensure, social equity and relations with other levels of government.

Minimum qualifications included eight years of professional experience in regulatory oversight, public administration or other comparable service. At least two years must have been in a high management role. Knowledge of the cannabis and hemp industries is also key.

Other requirements included “strong writing skills and public speaking skills.”

A background check was required. The job pays up to $151,000 per year.

DuPree said while the move to a retail market is a heavy lift, Minnesota has the record of other states that legalized marijuana sooner to draw from.

“Some of the challenges that other states have had, we’re going to try to avoid,” she said. “Being the 23rd state to legalize, we’re lucky enough to look back on the other 22 states, see what has worked and what hasn’t worked. And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.”