It was a brisk but sunny afternoon in St. Paul on the last day of February, and the young woman behind the pharmacy counter in the Rise Dispensaries offices on Vandalia Street was smiling broadly behind dark eyeliner and hints of gothic makeup as she handed out new pieces to customers. of history, one roll of smoking marijuana at a time.
With little public fanfare, Rise — formerly known as LeafLine Labs — began selling rolls and jars of “buds,” or dried, raw cannabis flowers, to adult users of medical marijuana on first day these sales were legal in Minnesota.
For the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry, this date marked a long-awaited breakthrough of sorts.
Legal sales of medical marijuana officially started on July 1, 2015, but when it was enacted by the then government. Mark Dayton, the state legislation that allowed such sales was widely considered the most restrictive of its kind in the country.
A patient would have to meet one of nine main eligibility requirements to receive marijuana in liquid, pill, or vapor form. Smoking “pot” was still not on the table.
State law has since eased, at least by a pinch. Of the 17 eligible conditions, “now we have ‘chronic pain’ and that’s a big deal because there’s a lot of stuff that falls under chronic pain,” said Sarah Lynch, commercial general manager of Rise’s dispensaries. in Minnesota.
Yet the industry as a legal option remains nascent and small compared to many other states that have legalized cannabis, but growing.
What was once limited to behind-the-scenes dealings has moved into a new, more regulated and corporatized space. In Minnesota, only two companies — Rise and Green Goods — are licensed to operate cannabis dispensaries, and their approach is day and night to the illicit market.
MINNESOTA TOWARDS MID-LEVEL REGULATIONS
This commercial space still includes – but is not limited to – products heavier in CBD, a chemical in the cannabis or hemp plant that produces relaxation without the high associated with the higher THC levels of marijuana. CBD products, which are increasingly common from gas stations and cafes to health food stores, are legal under federal law but still restricted in some states.
At Minnesota dispensaries, customers can choose products by both CBD and THC level, mixing and matching by preference.
“With the addition of the flower, Minnesota moves into the middle of the pack on the regulated side,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, chief executive of Minneapolis-based Goodness Growth Holdings, which operates eight green produce dispensaries in Minnesota. and others. in four other states. “There are a host of states that have CBD-only laws, such as Iowa, that have definitely restrictive limits on THC levels.”
They have the participation of health care providers, Kingsley added. “Overall, it’s a thoughtful, step-by-step program, and it’s a good approach if you want things to be well-regulated for patients. Things are going in the right direction. »
In Minnesota, patients or caregivers must be enrolled in the state medical cannabis program, which requires annual renewal. Rise, which was acquired by Green Thumb Industries, a multistate operator, in December, is developing its product in Cottage Grove and operates six dispensaries statewide, including in Eagan and a new location in Mankato.
Shipping cannabis products from out of state is still illegal. It remains the only legal dispensary in operation in St. Paul, which hosts one of the company’s largest retail outlets.
Under state law, Rise can only open two other locations.
“We will open more,” Lynch said. “I can’t say where yet.”
Green Goods, its only authorized competitor, advertises stores in Minneapolis, Burnsville, Woodbury, Blaine, Duluth and a handful of locations as far from the subway as Moorhead, Minn.
RELAXED REGULATIONS, CHEAPER PRICES OF FLOWERS
Despite heavy regulation, as the latest doors to open in the state’s relatively new medicinal marijuana landscape, bud sales have added both a traditional and new dimension to the distribution, which is still organized through pre-orders and supply sales for up to 90 days. In short: the buds are cheaper.
“It’s new to us, having smokable flowers,” Lynch said. “It was an extracts-only market.”
And these concentrated extracts are more expensive, largely because vapor oils, lozenges, sublingual sprays, and capsules require more processing.
Medicinal marijuana user Todd Rosewell of Hugo said a half-gram vapor canister costs him around $55-65, while 3½ grams of high-quality dried cannabis flower sells for around $45-55. dollars or even cheaper for lower quality options. Given quality controls and a lack of pesticides and contaminants, the product is both safer and more expensive than the illicit market, making resales unlikely.
Still, the flower is “more economical,” he said. “I just think it gives access to more people. As more dispensaries open, it’s the same as any market – more supply would drive prices down. One of the problems with the state of Minnesota is that it has limited the market to just two companies.
Peter Ingersoll, president of the cannabis division of a commercial real estate brokerage firm based in San Diego, sees an advantage to a duopoly: a professionalization of services. In Minnesota, he said, having only 17 dispensary locations “will keep prices high, (but) better than flooding the market with hundreds of fanciers who are all going to fail,” a- he declared.
Elsewhere, “shareholder lawsuits, half-completed projects and receiverships litter the playing field,” Ingersoll wrote, in a recent state of the industry update for Sperry Commercial Global Affiliates. That said, “this industry will soon be legalized and will continue to grow in double digits for many decades to come.”
MANY CONSIDER THAT FEDERAL LEGALIZATION IS INEVITABLE
To date, some 37 states have legalized some level of medical marijuana use and 18 states have fully decriminalized it, allowing recreational use. Ingersoll said most industry experts consider federal legalization of cannabis to be inevitable, though they also predict it will take at least another three to five years, if not longer, because it doesn’t appear to be an option. priority for the administration of President Joe Biden.
In Minnesota, regulations are being relaxed in other ways. The Minnesota Department of Health’s official list of eligible conditions has expanded over time to cover 17 categories, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, seizures, Tourette’s syndrome and terminal illnesses with a life expectancy of less than a year.
The state added certain conditions that are more fluid or more difficult to diagnose and quantify, such as intractable pain, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autism spectrum disorder as defined by the DSM manual -5 from the American Psychiatric Association.
Yet the Minnesota legislature has dismissed more common conditions such as anxiety and depression, which some psychologists have likened to the common cold in terms of their frequency in the general population.
Rosewell, 48, once traveled 100 days a year as part of his job as a national representative for a large Twin Cities manufacturing conglomerate. He decided he needed a change of pace, so he visited a friend’s marijuana farm in rural Colorado in the summer of 2020, in part to learn more about the industry.
Instead, he choked on a grilled bratwurst. His friends performed CPR, saving his life but leaving him with eight broken ribs, a punctured lung and a cracked sternum. It was, he recalls, the worst pain of his life.
After a few days of taking heavy painkillers, Rosewell was determined to recover without relying on morphine or opioids such as OxyContin, “which are highly addictive, and I didn’t want anything to do with it,” said- he declared.
Within seven days, he was headed for cannabis.
“When you take morphine or OxyContin, you can’t function,” he said. “You’re sleeping. It’s going to knock me out and I’m going to have to lie down on the couch.
Instead, he smoked pot. “When I was prescribed this in Colorado, it was amazing,” Rosewell said. “But when I came back to Minnesota, I couldn’t get it. It has become difficult and quite expensive to obtain it in any form in Minnesota, compared to Colorado or any other state where it has been legalized.
Instead, he turned to cannabis pills, and later cannabis vaporizer cartridges and lotions. Since the smoking flower was legalized in late February, he also buys marijuana buds from Rise’s St. Paul dispensary.
After months away from the workplace, Rosewell’s next goal is to break into legalized sales and distribution himself, he said.
“There’s a kind of stigma around it because of how it’s been perceived in this country for the last 100 years,” he acknowledged. “But there are so many advantages to it; we are just beginning to scratch the surface. Of course, there is responsible use. We’re not talking about 60s hippies who sat around all day. (Just look at) the number of people who are serving time, who are minorities, for selling something that could be used for benefit.