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Hubbard County Board seeks public input on edible THC ordinance

Cannabis Infused Edibles Package - Weed Gummies
Cities and counties across Minnesota are scrambling to figure out how to handle the new state law which allows edible food and beverage products, such as gummies, containing up to 5 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol.
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Hubbard County Attorney Jonathan Frieden, also representing Hubbard In Prevention Coalition (HIP), returned to the county board on Nov. 8 with his draft ordinance regulating the legal sales of ingestible tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products.

Frieden said a ordinance requiring licensing is one of three options. Hubbard County could either outright restrict the sale of any cannabis product, or do nothing and wait for the state government.

He asked county commissioners how they wished to proceed.

Board consensus was a need for more community input. They discussed holding a public hearing on the licensing ordinance, but leaving the option of an outright ban on the table.

Enforcement costs

Board chair Ted Van Kempen said, “I think the licensing is important,” but he believes the draft ordinance needs “some tweaking.”

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Van Kempen commented that doing nothing was “not viable” and not allowing it at all would “shut down existing businesses.” The ordinance, he said, would “be a happy medium and a beginning because we never know what the legislature is going to do next year.”

County commissioner David De La Hunt expressed two concerns, beginning with how to consistently apply regulation on things that are legal in the state of Minnesota. “How would you treat this differently than alcohol or tobacco? Or should you be?” he asked.

If the county chose an outright ban, De La Hunt wondered how that would be enforced and whether it would be more expensive. He noted that most counties are doing nothing.

Frieden said there will be enforcement costs either way, adding there are a lot of unknowns.

Van Kempen, who recently attended an Association of Minnesota Counties regional meeting, pointed out that no neighboring counties are taking action.

County commissioner Tom Krueger said he wasn’t prepared to make a decision. “I’d like to hear more from the public, what the community thinks about which way we should go with this.”

Unlike other government programs, County Administrator Jeff Cadwell noted that Hubbard County’s proposed ordinance is not mandated by the state nor the federal government.

Proposed Ordinance for Regulation of Sale of Ingestible Products Containing (THC) and Drug Paraphernalia in... by inforumdocs on Scribd

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Possession by youth

Frieden said his primary consideration is “the protection of youth in this community.”

Enforcement mechanisms are needed, he said, so juveniles know that it’s illegal for them to possess THC-infused products.

County commissioner Char Christenson said she shares Frieden’s concerns.

From an enforcement standpoint, Chief Deputy Sheriff Scott Parks said, “I don’t think we can do nothing. I think we need a basis to start from.”

Parks said there has been discussion about costs, enforcement and prosecution. “It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We need something in place that restricts youth or juveniles from possessing this stuff. It would take some sort of ordinance to put that into effect.”

Enforcing an all-out ban could be easier, Parks said, because law enforcement would only need to prove THC is present in a product.

Cadwell then asked for clarification. “Are you talking about a ban on the sales or a ban on possession of THC as legally described in Minnesota?”

Frieden said both. “Possessing an otherwise legal, intoxicating substance in the state of Minnesota, obviously that’s a question the board has to ask themselves how they want to vote on that issue,” he said. “I would say that I do not expect the state to make it any type of a civil or regulatory action against juveniles. They’ve decriminalized tobacco, for instance, as it relates to juvenile possession. In this case, I would advise restricting possession for, at least, juveniles.”

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If the county opts for licensing, Parks said “then we’re into quantitative testing” of THC products to ascertain if they are within the 0.3% legal limit.

“That’s where we may run into some issues finding an accredited lab” that can testify about the results in court, Parks continued.

Frieden pointed out that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension labs are currently nine months behind on testing meth, heroin, cocaine, etc.

Hemp vs. marijuana plants

The Minnesota Legislative Resource Library (MLRL) explains, “Cannabis plants contain many cannabinoids. Cannabidiol, known commonly as CBD, is one of the most common cannabinoids and products containing CBD have proliferated in recent years. THC is another well-known cannabinoid, given its psychoactive properties.”

Cannabinoids can be extracted from both marijuana plants and industrial hemp plants, reports MLRL. “To be considered hemp, the plant must contain less than 0.3% THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.”

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Jeri Scovel owns Hemptress Farms in Lake George, while Maia Winskowski owns Midwest Dabbin' Cabin, a hybrid smoke and hemp shop in downtown Park Rapids.

Minnesota’s new law allows the sale of edible food and beverage products containing up to 5 milligrams of THC derived from hemp. They may be sold to people 21 and older. Packaging may not be intended to entice children.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp when the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized it as a legitimate crop.

Medical cannabis — in pill, liquid and vapor form — became available in Minnesota in 2015, and is used to treat such conditions as cancer-related nausea, seizures, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and ALS.

According to Minnesota’s Medical Cannabis Program, each manufacturer must contract with an independent laboratory, approved by the Minnesota Commissioner of Health, to test their medical cannabis and hemp products for content, contamination and consistency.

Product regulation issues

Van Kempen asked if producers are required to test their THC-infused products.

Frieden said they are not currently regulated, so the consumer doesn’t know if the packaging or THC content is accurate. He noted that this ordinance allows the board to not renew a license if there was a violation.

Van Kempen asked if there will be an appeals process. Businesses are assuming their products are legal, he said. If found not in compliance, he asked if they can argue their case.

Frieden said that’s up to the county board.

“Alcohol is the most used and abused drug in the world,” Van Kempen said, noting that under the county’s ordinance, a liquor store may have five violations before their license is revoked.

Cadwell pointed out that alcohol is a well-regulated industry. He said licensing hemp retailers is not an onerous task, but the county may not have the capacity to test THC volume.

Frieden said the Minnesota Legislature should address product testing.

Van Kempen said he wants to protect youth – whether it's alcohol, cigarettes, THC or over-the-counter drugs – because they can overdose on any of those products.

He said he was worried about telling anyone 21 years or older that they can’t use a legal product in Hubbard County “because ‘we know best.’”

Health concerns

Century Middle School Principal Mike LeMier oversees 1,200 four-year-olds through 14-year-olds, “so this is a very important issue to me.”

Making decisions for adults is “not my purview. I’m really interested in how we restrict access to our children,” LeMier said. “So far, this year, we’ve taken edibles from students on two occasions and they were 11-year-olds.”

LeMier is concerned that THC gummies are indiscernible from candy.

Since it’s not illegal to possess edibles, LeMier said there isn’t any enforcement mechanism outside of school. Only school policy allows for discipline.

“What we’ve found is the parents have had it legally. That’s fine for adults. But our children are then having access to it,” LeMier said, adding there are no supports or court orders forcing parents to keep the product away from kids.

HIP Coordinator Angela Graham said the presence of commercial cannabis establishments would “demystify cannabis for youth” and “reinforce the untrue idea that it’s not harmful.”

She said it’s easier to overdose on edibles than smoking marijuana because it takes longer for the body to absorb THC.

According to Graham, 5% of eighth and ninth graders surveyed in Park Rapids reported using marijuana in 2022, along with 16% of 11th grade males and 9% in junior females. In Nevis, it was reportedly used by 10% of eighth graders and 6% of ninth graders.

Kathy Nevins, a nurse practitioner at Essentia Health, works with patients with substance abuse disorders. They are addicted to meth, heroin and fentanyl. Nevins said only eight of her 240 patients reported they did not use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana as teenagers. She admitted this is anecdotal, but she believes marijuana is a “gateway drug.” Nevins clarified that this doesn’t mean everyone who uses cannabis will develop substance abuse. She suggested an outright ban, but does support medical cannabis, which requires a certifying medical diagnosis.

Prolific drug ads

Van Kempen pointed out how tobacco use declined when companies were banned from advertising. “Now, in America, we promote drug use. We’re one of only two countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to market their product to the consumer,” Van Kempen said. He noted that many commercial breaks feature prescription drug ads.

He wondered if kids seeing these promotions can distinguish between legal and illegal drugs.

County commissioner Dan Stacey was absent.

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Hubbard County Human Resources Director Gina Teems explained that, over the past few years, the county has reviewed every position and its classification.

Related Topics: HUBBARD COUNTY BOARDHEALTH
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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