Brewers Guild wants more regulation for THC drinks out of next legislative session

Cans of THC-infused beverages sit on a bar table
Cannabis-infused beverages are displayed at The Block Food & Drink in St. Louis Park, Minn. on Aug. 2.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

The wild west of cannabis in Minnesota might have officially ended six months ago, when the state legalized recreational use and sales. But many craft brewers are looking for more regulation and plan to push for it in the legislative session that begins later this month.

Right now, it’s only THC drinks and edibles that are widely available. The industry has seen explosive growth since the state began regulating hemp-derived cannabinoids 2022. As the market expands, more questions have emerged.

MPR News host Tom Crann talked with Bob Galligan, director of government and industry relations for the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, about what he wants to see come across legislators desks during the 2024 session.

THC drinks were around even before recreational legalization. So what changed on Aug. 1?

Galligan: These THC beverages — hemp-derived, which is very important to keep in mind that they are coming from hemp and not full strength cannabis — were legalized in the 2022 session. And some of the beverages kind of took off after that.

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But it was very, very murky from 2022 to 2023. But you know, even in my conversations with legislators, my opening line was, “I’m going to ask you something I never would have asked you for any other session: Can we get more regulations around these products? And can we start paying taxes on them?”

Tell me what you’re hearing from bar owners and bartenders. What sorts of questions or concerns do they have?

And we are operating under those temporary provisions that we wanted to solidify and make sure were in place.

But then there are regulations that will come into place either March 1, 2025, or when the Office of Cannabis Management is up and running. So right now, you can go into a bar or restaurant you can order a beer and you can order a THC beverage side by side. There’s nothing preventing you from that. Once the regulatory landscape moves, there is language that says you cannot consume THC if you consumed alcohol in the previous five hours.

We think that the the spirit of that law is very much accurate, and we understand that public health is at top of mind. We just don’t necessarily think that it’s possible to enforce.

So this upcoming session will be kind of working with some stakeholders and trying to alleviate that, because we want to make sure that these beverages can be served in bars and restaurants. There still are a number of bar owners and bartenders who aren’t serving these beverages, because they know they will be subject to that five hour rule.

So dealing with that, and then one of the big hurdles right now also is insurance. How do you actually insure spaces for consumption of these products? Insurance providers want pages and pages of data for them to write their policies. And they just don’t have that because we are the data. As we kind of figure out the market more, and how consumers are reacting to it, having that data to then give back to insurance companies will be super helpful, because insurance is still difficult to find.

And other than that, we want to make sure testing is as available and cheap as possible, because we really do want every batch of these products to be tested. But in order to do so, we need to make sure that it’s feasible from a financial standpoint and also just a logistics standpoint.

One of the things I’ve noticed is these drinks can be found in more and more places, and in places where you can’t get a beer or spirits, like coffee shops, at my barbershop. How long will that continue?

Yeah, we foresee that continuing for the foreseeable future. We want to make sure that, that can continue. You know, a lot of what we have been trying to do, both in the legislation the 2023 session and then looking forward, is really equate these low-dose, hemp-derived beverages and regulate them the same way we would with any beer.

A lot of people who consume these beverages are not necessarily the full-strength cannabis user — the people who are familiar with the substance or who go and visit dispensaries. We tend to refer to them as more the cannabis curious consumer. So it’s the 75-year-old grandmother who wants to sleep a little better. It’s the athlete who has a little bit of joint pain.

Making sure that these products are available at liquor stores, grocery stores and apparently barber shops, where folks can take and buy these beverages and consume them in the safety of their own home and see whether or not THC is a benefit to their lifestyle, that is kind of the whole goal.

Are THC drinks eating into the beer market?

We know in a fair amount of other states that have achieved full legalization, we have seen somewhat of a decrease in alcohol sales. Having said that, we haven’t really seen that in Minnesota, as of yet, and we don’t necessarily think that we’re going to. It might decrease a little bit.

But having said that, for our members on the brewing side of things, I can tell you that a lot of members, this is making up anywhere between like 3 percent to almost 10 percent of the products that they’re producing and selling. Even some of the liquor stores that I’ve talked to, this will make up almost 10 percent of their portfolio. One of the liquor stores had one of these THC beverages enter their top 10 selling products for the first time last month.

So we do know that these products are becoming more popular. And I think it’ll be interesting as dispensaries come online, and as people have more access to different forms of THC, it’ll be interesting to see how the market shakes out for these beverages.

Right now everything is so new, we don’t have a whole lot of data.