Updated: 10:50 a.m.
Minnesota’s legislative auditor concluded Thursday that missed standard background check steps contributed to the botched appointment of an Office of Cannabis Management director, resulting in an embarrassing misstep for the Walz administration.
Auditor Judy Randall released a preliminary assessment of the situation that led to the quick resignation of Erin DuPree, after she was named to lead the regulatory office in September. But the auditor said the problematic pick doesn’t merit a more exhaustive investigation.
DuPree left soon after media reports about her past financial problems and questions over product potency at a CBD store she ran in Apple Valley. She has denied knowingly selling THC products that exceeded legal limits.
“The governor’s office made some honest mistakes here, but we didn’t think it was something more systemic or nefarious or anything like that, that warranted allocation of more resources from our office,” Randall said in an interview.
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She said there was nothing to indicate that state officials were misled by DuPree.
On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz took additional steps to recruit a new top marijuana regulator, bringing on a recruiter to find qualified candidates.
His selection of DuPree in September was one of more than 750 appointments the governor’s office made to agencies, boards or commissions last year. But it wasn’t routine in terms of public interest, or as it turns out, process.
“Some are subject to the advice and consent, and the vast majority are not controversial,” Randall wrote in her report. “However, a small number are especially sensitive and subject to additional scrutiny; this was the case for the OCM Director position.”
Randall identified several gaps in the background check and records searches before DuPree’s hire, including the lack of a standard review by the Department of Revenue for a position of this level.
That review would have uncovered civil judgments and tax liens against DuPree for prior business and personal ventures.
The auditor’s review determined that Gov. Tim Walz’s staff didn’t realize they lacked full information until after DuPree’s problems were reported by MPR News and other outlets and after she resigned within a day of her September appointment.
A top lawyer in the governor’s office told Randall in a letter that changes have already been made to avoid future problems.
“Immediately following the (DuPree) appointment, the governor’s office reviewed its processes and implemented changes,” wrote General Counsel Mary Fee. “We’ve also increased Governor’s Office capacity for research about potential appointments.”
The search for a new director is ongoing. Walz has said he's looking for someone with more regulatory experience to run the office that will oversee the legal marijuana market.
After the auditor’s review was released Thursday, Walz said he was expanding his search process and use of a recruiter to complete the national hunt for a director. In the meantime, he has turned to Charlene Briner to lead the cannabis office on an interim basis; she had been in the role temporarily since it was created last year.
“I’m grateful for the work being done to not only revamp our vetting process but also expand our recruiting process,” Walz said in a written statement.
Applications for the director role will be accepted through Feb. 26.