The first director of Minnesota’s first recreational marijuana legalization program lasted less than two days.
Erin DuPree has asked that Gov. Tim Walz withdraw her appointment to be the director of the Office of Cannabis Management after two news stories revealed that she had sold disallowed products in her Apple Valley hemp store and has a series of tax liens and unpaid debts from previous businesses.
“Not the finest hour,” Walz said on Saturday, speaking at MinnPost Festival in Minneapolis. “In this case the process did not work, and we got this wrong.”
Walz said he wanted to pick someone who understood the fledgling industry in Minnesota. But he said people expect regulators will “follow the rules.”
“I own this one, we’ll get the right person in there,” he said.
In a statement on Friday evening, DuPree said she was passionate about the industry and her skills, experience and expertise made her the right person for the job at the moment. However, she said she had “become a distraction that would stand in the way of important work that needs to be done.”
“I have never knowingly sold any noncompliant product, and when I became aware of them I removed the products from inventory,” DuPree wrote. “Conducting lawful business has been an objective of my business career. However, it has become clear that I have become a distraction that would stand in the way of the important work that needs to be done.”
Walz had issued his own statement earlier saying Charlene Briner will continue to lead the agency on an interim basis as the state makes progress toward hiring nine leadership positions and launching a rulemaking process in October.
Briner is a senior Department of Agriculture official who has been serving as the interim Office of Cannabis Management director. Rulemaking is a laborious process that could take more than a year to complete and must be completed before any cannabis licenses are issued.
At MinnPost Festival, Walz acknowledged concerns about “industry capture,” saying some people will worry they’re going to “lean toward” the side of people they’re trying to regulate. He also said he thinks his vetting process is solid. The governor estimated has appointed 2,700 people, and he said the applicants are screened by lawyers and face criminal background checks. But he said he needs to ask how things fell through the cracks on this position.
“I was under the impression the system, up to this point, 2,699 times, had worked right,” he said. “It didn’t this time.”
DuPree’s appointment was announced Thursday to praise from Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. The choice, however, was greeted with some puzzlement — though little public criticism — because of her lack of experience in government or with complex legal and regulatory schemes.
Her hemp business and consultancy for business startups were cited by the administration. But several of those businesses failed, something she acknowledged on a LinkedIn page.
“I have been an entrepreneur since 1999, when I made my first step to being a business owner. That endeavor failed (and a few others along the way) but that sparked a curiosity I have yet to satisfy. A dozen or so businesses later I am still at it,” the page stated. It also described her use of cannabis for a medical condition. On Thursday DuPree said she didn’t have a medical card “in this state” but refused to talk about her use of medical cannabis.
DuPree lacked experience that was said to be required on the official job posting by the state.
“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.”
Leili Fatehi, a lawyer and lobbyist who has been leading the effort to pass a recreational marijuana bill for four years, expressed disappointment in the appointment and urged Walz to reopen the process.
“Appointing someone without the necessary qualifications, who is an active member of the very industry they are meant to regulate, and who has shown a past disregard for compliance, is a textbook example of regulatory capture,” she said. “Such a decision risks establishing a culture of noncompliance at the very top levels of our state’s oversight of this nascent industry. It’s crucial that we prioritize integrity, experience, and a commitment to the rule of law as we navigate the complexities of building a responsible and equitable cannabis landscape in Minnesota.”
“It’s imperative that the state reopens the job posting and conducts a comprehensive nationwide search to find a qualified regulator who can truly harness this potential and guide our industry with expertise and integrity. Minnesota deserves nothing less than the best as we embark on this important work.”
The prime sponsors of House File 100 — Sen. Lindsay Port, DFL-Burnsville, and Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids — did not return calls to comment on the appointment and the withdrawal.
MinnPost reporter Walker Orenstein contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Saturday with comments from Gov. Tim Walz.
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