Minnesota medicinal marijuana chains embrace ‘bud’ sales

It was a brisk but sunny afternoon in St. Paul, the last day of February, and the young woman behind the pharmacy counter at the Vandalia Street offices of Rise Dispensaries smiled broadly behind dark eyeliner and hints of goth makeup as she handed clients fresh bits of history, one smokable marijuana roll 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 medical marijuana users on the first day such sales were legal in Minnesota.

For the state’s burgeoning medicinal marijuana industry, the date marked a long-awaited breakthrough of sorts.

Legal medical marijuana sales officially began on July 1, 2015, but at the time it was signed into law by then-Gov. Mark Dayton, the state legislation that authorized those sales was widely considered the most restrictive of its kind in the nation.

QUALIFYING CONDITIONS

A patient would have to meet one of nine major qualifying conditions to receive marijuana in a liquid, pill or vaporized delivery method. Smoking “pot” was still off the table.

State law has since loosened, at least by a pinch. Among what’s now 17 qualifying conditions, “now we have ‘chronic pain’ and that’s a big one, because there’s a lot of things that fall under chronic pain,” said Sarah Lynch, commercial general manager for Rise’s Minnesota dispensaries.

Still, the industry as a legal option remains nascent and restricted relative to many other states that have legalized cannabis, but expanding.

What had once been limited to back-alley transactions has moved into a new, more regulated and corporatized space. In Minnesota, only two companies – Rise and Green Goods – are authorized to operate cannabis dispensaries, and their approach is night-and-day compared to the illicit market.

MINNESOTA MOVES TOWARD MID-LEVEL REGULATIONS

A display with different cannabis delivery methods at Rise Dispensaries in St. Paul. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

That commercial space still includes – but isn’t limited to – heavier products on CBD, a chemical in the cannabis or hemp plant that produces relaxation without the high associated with marijuana’s higher THC levels. CBD products, which are increasingly commonplace from gas stations and coffee shops 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 a flower, Minnesota is moving into the middle of the pack on the regulated side,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, chief executive officer of Minneapolis-based Goodness Growth Holdings, which operates eight Green Goods dispensary locations throughout Minnesota and others throughout four other states. “There are a slew of states that have CBD-only laws, like Iowa, which have definitely restrictive limits on THC levels.”

They have participation from health care providers, Kingsley added. “Generally, it’s been a thoughtful, incremental program, and that’s a good approach if you want things to be well-regulated for patients. Things are going in the right direction. ”

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