The person charged with leading the complex and closely watched process of making Minnesota the 23rd recreational marijuana state could be appointed to the job within weeks.
The interim head of the Office of Cannabis Management predicted an early September appointment by Gov. Tim Walz. Charlene Briner, a current Department of Agriculture manager who is the temporary “implementation director” for the fledgling new agency, is leading the search and spoke during a webinar to update interested people about the first steps in carrying out the new law.
“That means writing the job description, posting it, casting a wide net in the recruiting process, leading a multi-phased screening and interview process,” Briner said Wednesday evening. “We anticipate sending finalists to Gov. Walz in late August, and he expects to make an announcement in early September about who that new leader will be.”
Walz was asked about the timing earlier Wednesday and was less specific.
“We’re still going forward,” he said. “We’re going through the applications that will be there and we’ll try to get someone as soon as possible.”
As laid out by Briner and others already working for the new Office of Cannabis Management, the job will be daunting. The new law requires the office to draft rules covering everything from the requirements for each of the 16 licenses, how retailers are regulated, how social justice programs are shaped and administered and how potent marijuana and hemp-derived products can be.
No licenses can be issued to grow, process or sell marijuana until the rules are approved, something that likely won’t be done until early spring of 2025. While use and possession of cannabis was legal starting Aug. 1, sales outside of the few tribal nations that have their own programs will remain with the illicit market.
Briner explained the policy rationale for the gap.
“The state made a determination that this is not activity that should be criminal any longer and so it is better to stop criminalization even though we would not be in a position to stand up a retail market until rules are in place,” she said.
While the new office will create the regulatory structure for recreational marijuana, it will also absorb the regulation of hemp products and the administration of the decade-old medical cannabis program. Between now and when the new office and rules are set up in March, 2025, the state Department of Health and its Office of Medical Cannabis will administer both hemp and medical cannabis.
The Department of Agriculture is what Briner termed the “incubator agency” for the OCM but that many other state agencies are involved in setting it up and administering the new law.
“This really is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor,” she said.
The director job is considered a Group II commissioner-level job similar to the state Gambling Control Board and the chair of the Met Council. The posted pay range is between $105,757 and $151,505, and the position is subject to state Senate confirmation.
The director job was posted in late June. “The inaugural Director of the Office of Cannabis Management will have responsibility for building a new state agency from the ground up and play a key leadership role in establishing and regulating an emerging new cannabis market in Minnesota,” the posting said.
“The Director will lead planning and policymaking; regulatory functions including compliance, enforcement, and licensure; social equity; tribal relations; legislative relations and operations management. This position will ensure office activities align with statutes, rules and legislation governing the Agency.”
The job posting preferred applicants with “knowledge of the cannabis and/or hemp regulatory environment,” but was primarily aimed at those with experience running a government or private agency. It asked for “eight years of professional experience in regulatory oversight, public administration, business or law enforcement. A bachelor’s degree or higher in public administration, business administration or a related field can substitute for two years of experience.”
In addition, the job posting asked for candidates with ”two years of managerial experience over one or more functional areas that includes overseeing professional and high-level management staff.”
Briner said she is also working with other temporary staff to create job descriptions for eight to 10 senior positions in the new agency with the intent of having them posted at the end of August.
“The goal is that there will be a portfolio of applicants for the new director to begin interviewing and hiring their team as soon as they’re on the job,” Briner said.
Walz must also fill out a 51-member Cannabis Advisory Commission, a massive body with specific positions set aside for state agencies, local governments, law enforcement, health and mental health, farming, the 11 tribal nations, cannabis workers, criminal justice advocates, laboratory sciences, minority business owners, cannabis lawyers and veterans.
Those positions are still open for applicants on the Secretary of State’s appointments website. Briner said she expects Walz to fill out the panel this fall.
During the legislative session, Republicans opposed to the bill voiced speculation that former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler could be in line for the job. Winkler had led the effort in the House to pass the first significant legalization bill — House File 600 — which passed the House in 2021. It did not come to a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Winkler left the House for an unsuccessful run for Hennepin County attorney but became campaign chair for MN Is Ready, the lead advocacy organization pushing for legalization. Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, tried to amend HF 100 to say that the director could not be someone who had served in the Legislature during the previous four years. The same amendment would have banned those same legislators and former legislators from getting any license under the cannabis law.
Rep. Zach Stephenson, the Coon Rapids DFLer who was prime House sponsor opposed the amendment but said he supported the four-year moratorium for legislators becoming the director. That provision was not included in the final bill.
Winkler said Thursday he will not be an applicant for the director position.
Correction: This story was changed to correct that there are 16 licenses created in the law, not 14.