Council approves first reading for regulations on THC products

Published 5:40 am Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved the first reading of a city ordinance that would establish restrictions for the sale of edible products with hemp-derived THC to people under 21.

The Minnesota Legislature at the end of the legislative session adopted a state statute making it legal to sell edibles and beverages infused with under 5 milligrams of THC per serving. THC is the psychoactive ingredient extracted from cannabis plants that produces a high sensation.

While the state law only addressed the sale of the products, the proposed ordinance the council is considering also includes restrictions to the age a person can possess the products in the city. If the ordinance is approved, people under age 21 would not be able to possess or use the edible products.

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The proposed regulations would require businesses to have a city license to sell THC products in Albert Lea and would require stores that sell both THC and non-THC products to keep products with THC behind the counter or in a locked case. The ordinance also prohibits liquor stores from selling the products.

In addition to it being illegal for someone under 21 to purchase or possess the edible cannabinoid products, it would be illegal for someone to purchase on behalf of a person under 21.

Similar ordinances have been approved in the cities of Austin, Owatonna and Mankato, city staff said.

City Manager Ian Rigg said he has had numerous discussions about the issue, including with the Albert Lea school board, and the ordinance would make it an infraction similar to if someone under the age limit currently is found with alcohol or tobacco.

Jerry Collins, co-owner of Big Dream Organics, during the public forum portion of the council meeting thanked city staff for soliciting input for the ordinance from small businesses like his own that would be directly affected by the changes.

“Obviously we need a statute, the city of Albert Lea, because we’re seeing a pretty broad range of cannabis products going through our community,” Collins said.

He said there are some people who are still selling products that are prohibited under the state law that went into effect in July that have far over the dosage amounts that are allowed.

“It does make sense to me to create an ordinance within the city of Albert Lea to address these things to ensure that the products that are legally sold and consumed within our community are sold to those that are of age and that are high quality, compliant, safe products,” he said. “Safe, legal, compliant products are what Albert Lea really needs, and based on our customer feedback, the people want it as well so when they come into a place that does sell cannabis products, they can feel comfortable with it.”

Collins said he would like the city to consider a stand-alone cannabis ordinance, instead of one combined with the ordinance on tobacco, though he recognizes the need to pass an ordinance quickly because of the state law that was passed.

He asked the council to consider an event license structure to allow businesses like theirs to continue to be a part of community events. He also asked the city to consider changing the language in the ordinance that dealt with asking for identification upon entry to the establishments selling the products to make sure no one under 21 had access. He said he thought it should be changed to no one under 21 had access to licensed products. He didn’t want it to be misunderstood that accompanied minors could not come into the store, as often parents or grandparents may bring their children or grandchildren with them as they are out shopping.

The council did not have discussion about the issue during the meeting, but had some preliminary discussion during the work session prior to the meeting.

A few councilors raised concern that the ordinance prohibited not only the sale but also the possession of the products, though state law only includes the sale.

Fourth Ward Councilor Reid Olson questioned if a youth came home from college and had purchased the products legally in another location and got pulled over in their car if they would get charged for the infraction locally under the provision.

Public Safety Director J.D. Carlson said it is extremely difficult for law enforcement right now who would pull someone over for impaired driving. He said they can’t currently can’t test the gummy, though they could test the individual for impairment.

Rigg said he would anticipate the Legislature soon to vote on amending the state law to include possession and has heard that the author intended for the provision to be included.

Carlson said he and other law enforcement across the state had also wished for cleaner language.

“I just wish the state would have gotten their act together and done it right the first time,” Howland said.

Howland questioned whether it was necessary to have the possession part in the local ordinance if already addressing the sale. He referenced the city’s tobacco ordinance that prohibits just the sale.

Rigg said there were concerns that youth could distribute the products to their friends.

“I don’t think everyone’s looking to throw the book at kids, that are you know, got their hands on some cookies that they’re not supposed to, but at the same point it provides us the ability to create some sort of intervention and some sort of correction, if possible,” he said.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said for him the gummies are altering a person’s perception and should be treated like alcohol instead of tobacco.

“This is the exact same type of class, and I don’t see why we treat it any differently,” Rasmussen said.

After listening to Rasmussen, Howland said the more he thought about it, the more he realized he didn’t have a problem with the proposal.

The fine for an infraction would be a misdemeanor.

The council will have its second reading of the ordinance at its next meeting, where it will likely include more discussion on the issue.