Minnesota Health Officials Issue Warning About Illegal High-Potency Hemp Products


The Minnesota Department of Health has issued a bulletin warning consumers that retailers are selling unregulated and illegal cannabis products that exceed the state’s limit for THC. Minnesota legalized recreational marijuana earlier this year, but state-licensed cannabis dispensaries are not expected to open for at least a year, perhaps not until early 2025.

In its bulletin, the health department noted that the agency inspected 167 retailers offering hemp-derived cannabinoid products between August and November and found that more than one in three (39%) of the shops were selling illegal high-potency products. Under Minnesota law, hemp edibles and beverages sold in the state must not exceed 5 milligrams of THC per serving and no more than 50 milligrams per package.

“Illegal, high-dose hemp-derived products may contain hundreds of milligrams of THC per serving, and with multiple servings in a package, this can add up to thousands of milligrams of THC — far above the legal limit,” the health department wrote in a bulletin last week. “These products are produced by a variety of manufacturers and if consumed may lead to adverse health effects, such as becoming unresponsive, seizures or psychotic episodes.”

Garry Bowman, a spokesman for the Department of Health, added that more than 70% of the retailers inspected had “deficiencies of one kind or another,” such as incorrect labeling or product placement, according to a report from the Star Tribune.

Until earlier this year, Minnesota’s hemp-derived cannabinoid product market was unregulated, with many retailers throughout the state selling untested and potentially harmful products. This summer, however, the Department of Health was given the authority to inspect businesses and products to ensure compliance with testing requirements, dosage limits, packaging laws and other regulations. 

The Minnesota Department of Revenue reported that it collected nearly $3.4 million in taxes on cannabis products between July and October. The figure translates to about $34 million in hemp products sold during those four months, putting Minnesota on track to sell more than $100 million in hemp THC edibles and beverages annually. 

The inspections of retailers carrying hemp products are being carried out by the Office of Medical Cannabis, a new state agency that is part of the Department of Health. Chris Elvrum, the assistant director of the office, said that he was not surprised when he learned that so many of the state’s retailers were selling high-potency hemp products.

“I think the marketplace, it just hadn’t been regulated for a while, to any great degree,” Elvrum told the Star Tribune

More Inspections Coming

The recent probe of hemp retailers was carried out when the department had only one inspector on its staff. But the agency has recently hired five additional inspectors, Bowman reported, with another to be hired next month. The increased staff is needed to properly inspect Minnesota’s approximately 3,000 businesses including hemp shops, breweries and liquor stores that have registered with the state to sell or manufacture hemp products. 

Elvrum said that in the future, the inspectors will concentrate their efforts on businesses that most commonly sell hemp products that do not comply with state regulations.

“So, smoke shops and some hemp shops and a few convenience stores. But a lot of them are smoke shops or tobacco shops that carry a variety and have these high-dose products,” Elvrum said. “Right now, there’s about 800 of those registered.”

Inspectors will also eventually examine liquor stores, bars and restaurants that sell hemp THC seltzers and other beverages. Elvrum said those products have been given a lower priority for inspection because the health department has determined that they are generally more compliant with regulations than some other hemp products such as gummies.

Elvrum also noted that when inspectors discover illegal hemp products, retailers are asked to destroy them immediately or box them to be held for subsequent monitored destruction.

“So far, all of the places we’ve visited have either done it on the spot [or] in a few cases, we would send our inspector back to watch them destroy it,” he said.

Retailers found to be selling illegal hemp THC products are subject to fines of up to $10,000 per incident, according to the Department of Health. Businesses selling hemp products without registering with the state as required by law can also be fined up to $10,000. 

Elvrum said that the Office of Cannabis Management has so far not fined retailers not complying with the state’s hemp regulations. But that could change if inspectors return to a business previously found to be selling illegal products and discover repeat violations.

“We are generally giving them the benefit of the doubt on the first visit,” Elvrum said. “Certainly, repeated violations of the same nature are going to end up being considered for a penalty.”