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THC in your seltzer? Brewers and Minnesota interpret state law differently

A Minnesota state warning has some retailers and producers taking a wait and see on THC-infused brews.

Thistle Seltzer.JPG
A staff member pours a glass of 5% alcohol seltzer at Little Thistle Brewing Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol Gaming Enforcement Division, THC can't be added to alcoholic beverages. However, some brewers read the law differently.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — When it comes to THC, many of Minnesota’s craft brewers are taking a wait and see approach.

As of July 1, products containing up to 5 milligrams of hemp-derived tetrahydrocannabinols, the primary intoxicant in cannabis plants, can now be sold in Minnesota . The change surprised even some of the lawmakers who passed the legislation.

Some confusion on regulation of sales of THC-infused products prompted letters to liquor sellers earlier this month from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol Gaming Enforcement Division stating liquor sellers aren’t authorized to sell THC products.

This caught Jack Lester, owner of Jack’s Bottle Shop in Rochester, Minnesota, by surprise.

Lester was an early adopter of THC-infused products when the law took effect in July. He said he was looking forward to offering customers THC-infused beverages.

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“It was spectacular the first few weeks,” Lester said.

He said first-time customers and people who wanted to avoid smoke and vape shops were the top buyers of the THC-infused waters, chocolates and gummies he initially offered until receiving a letter from the DPS.

The letter clarified the limited list of items off-sale liquor stores are allowed to sell.

“THC products, anything, are not on this,” he said.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Visit Little Thistle
Dawn Finnie, co-owner of Little Thistle Brewing, speaks during a visit by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Thursday, May 26, 2022.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

This has led to some breweries to hold off on plans to create THC beverages if where they can be sold is restricted.

While some breweries are beginning to introduce nonalcoholic beverages infused with THC, under current law, THC can’t be added to alcoholic beverages, DPS officials said.

That makes regulation of THC outside the purview of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, said guild board president Dawn Finnie.

Finnie, who is co-owner of Little Thistle Brewing in Rochester, said her understanding is that breweries could sell THC-infused seltzers where they’re made and in taprooms and some other retailers.

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The lack of clarity on off-site sales has some producers waiting before beginning to make anything in their facilities.

The passage of the legislation also took brewers by surprise, she added.

“We really hadn’t had solid conversations about it at least at a craft brewers guild level,” Finnie said.

As far as production at her brewery, that’s still up in the air.

THC-Infused Hop Water Beverage
A THC-infused hop water beverage Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

“We hate to have something about ready and then find out, oh, we can’t sell it in this way or that way,” she said.

The owners of Kinney Creek Brewing, Rochester's oldest brewery, which already produces a line of seltzers, is similarly holding off on creating THC-infused seltzers until rules of sales and distribution are clarified.

If any Rochester brewery does move forward with something, Lester would normally jump at an opportunity to sell it.

Lester focuses on carrying sought-after and Minnesota-made beverages at his store. He said he hopes some clarifications or changes to the rule will allow him to sell what Minnesota producers have to offer.

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Duluth-based Bent Paddle Brewing and Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis both announced they will produce a low-THC content seltzer this month. Minneapolis Cider Co. has introduced two flavors of Trail Magic, a nonalcoholic containing 3 milligrams of THC.

Crowlers of CBD nonalcoholic seltzer have returned to the Bent Paddle Brewing taproom. The company this month plans to release four-can packs for distribution in two varieties — THC and non-THC CBD seltzers.

David O’Neill, co-founder of Minneapolis Cider Co., said the THC in the beverage will provide consumers with a buzz equivalent to about a 5% alcohol content cider.

Lester said those are the types of products his customers would typically buy. Trail Magic is available in some nearby liquor stores, he said, which, from his understanding, might violate the policy he was warned about.

Despite the temptation to do the same, Lester said he won’t carry those beverages until he’s given a clear OK to do so.

“I’d hate to be the poster child for what happens if you go against what is allowed or how it’s interpreted,” he said.

Besides, quietly carrying unique beverages isn’t his style, he added.

“If we’re bringing a product into the shop, we want to promote it,” he said.

For now, he’s holding off carrying any items with the hope some clarifying legislation comes from next year’s legislative session.

“I don’t mind having to jump through hoops if it means this industry can be allowed to grow in the right way,” he said. “Set those hoops up, I’ll jump through them.”

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A letter from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol Gaming Enforcement Division
Contributed

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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