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Minnesota regulators go after business for potent THC gummies

The product “Death by Gummy Bears” sold at Northland Vapor locations in Minnesota contained 100 milligrams of THC per serving, and 2,500 milligrams per package — 20 times the amount allowed per serving and more than 50 times the amount allowed in a package.

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The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is taking action against a business for selling "Death by Gummy Bears," an edible THC product. The gummies contain 20 times the amount of THC per serving allowed under Minnesota law, and more than 50 times the amount allowed per package.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is taking legal action against a Minnesota business for selling products said to violate new state laws on edible THC products, including gummy bears linked to the hospitalizations of two teenagers in Iowa.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Dec. 5, in State District Court in Moorhead, the pharmacy board alleged Northland Vapor, a business with locations in Moorhead and Bemidji, and affiliated business Wonky Confections, sold products that well exceeded the legal limit of THC per serving in products in packaging that appeals to children.

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Northland Vapor is located at 1500 Bemidji Ave. N in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The product “Death by Gummy Bears” sold at Northland Vapor locations in Minnesota contained 100 milligrams of THC per serving, and 2,500 milligrams per package — 20 times the amount allowed per serving and more than 50 times the amount allowed in a package. The product also takes the shape of an animal and uses colorful packaging specifically forbidden by the law allowing the sale of edibles in Minnesota.

“To our fellow Minnesotans, we encourage you to be cautious when purchasing and consuming edible cannabinoid products,” said Pharmacy Board Executive Director Jill Phillips. “These products should be kept out of the reach of children and pets and THC products exceeding the legal limits may be extremely potent, making unintentional consumption and consumption by children especially dangerous.”

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Northland Vapor Co. is seen Jan. 24 at 115 Eighth St. S. in Moorhead
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

Minnesota pharmacy officials have placed an “embargo” on more than $7 million worth of non-compliant products and are seeking a court order to destroy them. The products the board blocked from sale are being held in Northland Vapor’s Moorhead warehouse, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Assistant Attorney General Hans Anderson on behalf of the board. The pharmacy board said Minnesota and FDA inspectors conducted an investigation at the warehouse on Nov. 8 and found four products that violated state law, including two package sizes of Death by Gummy Bears, "Wonky Weeds Gummies," and "Wonky Weeds THC Syrup."

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State officials learned of the non-compliant products from the Food and Drug Administration through the pharmacy board's complaint process, Phillips said. One of the complaints involved a death of a 23-year-old in October, but the FDA is still investigating whether the product actually played a direct role. The board said it could not provide additional details on the death, citing the ongoing investigation, though the death did not occur in Minnesota.

In November, five Iowa teenagers had “significant” adverse reactions to “Death by Gummy Bears,” experiencing nausea, vomiting, severe anxiety, paranoia, severe tremors, increased heart rate and difficulty breathing. Two were admitted to an emergency room after taking an entire gummy each, according to reports.

An attorney for Northland Vapor said the business had worked with regulators to bring its practices into compliance with the law and had been unfairly targeted to be "made an example" by "over-zealous regulators in St. Paul looking to make a splash with their newly adopted law."

"The State's attempts to smear Northland's reputation and aggressive tactics go beyond belief. The State has inferred — but was careful not to say — that consumption of a Northland gummy product resulted in a THC overdose death," attorney Tyler J Leverington said in a written statement.

"Suggesting that an adult male who consumed a gummy product on the date of his death died because of the gummy is no more absurd than suggesting an adult male who consumed a single beer on the date of his death must have been killed by the beer."

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Minnesota Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Jill Phillips addresses reporters at the Minnesota Capitol Monday, Dec. 5, explaining legal action against businesses that allegedly violated the state's rules on edible THC products. Assistant Attorney General Hans Anderson, who filed the suit on behalf of the board, stands to the left.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Minnesota legalized the sale of THC-containing food and beverages on July 1. The move caught many by surprise, including some of the lawmakers who voted in favor. People 21 and older can buy products containing servings of up to 5 milligrams of THC. A single package of edibles — or drinkables — may not contain more than 50 milligrams. Products must be derived from legally certified hemp, which contains no more than 0.3% THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive part of cannabis that gets users "high."

A form of THC called delta-8 had already been legal in Minnesota under federal legislation passed in 2018. A key point of Minnesota’s new law, which regulates hemp products, also made the more potent delta-9 THC legal in the state so long as it is derived from hemp. The “Death by Gummy Bears” product contains delta-8, which was already legal. Before the new law allowing delta-9 created restrictions on packaging and dosage, the product would have been legal.

But many questions remained after the new law went into effect this summer, namely enforcement and regulation. Edible THC products might be legal under the new law, but the question of enforcement is not directly addressed. While the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy is tasked with regulating THC-containing products, much of the enforcement was left up to cities and counties.

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Full legalization will likely come along with stronger state regulations and taxes. Businesses selling THC edibles do not currently need a license.

While Democrats in the House and Senate have not yet rolled out their priorities for the 2023 legislative session, Gov. Tim Walz and prominent DFL lawmakers have already expressed support for legalization.

Since Minnesota legalized edible THC products, the pharmacy board has received 46 complaints about violations. Phillips said the pharmacy board is limited in its scope of action as the businesses selling edible THC products are not licensees. And while the Legislature tasked the board with regulating the products, it did not provide additional funding or resources for it to take on the new task. The pharmacy board hopes the state will create a separate licensing agency to handle cannabis and other THC-containing products.

“It is our hope in the next legislative session that we pass much more comprehensive legislation surrounding these products,” she told reporters. “We do the best we can with the resources that we have to act promptly and effectively to address these complaints.”

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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