Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details and quotes from a Thursday press briefing with DuPree.
Erin DuPree, the founder of a hemp-derived cannabis business in Apple Valley, will be Minnesota’s first director of the Office of Cannabis Management.
Gov. Tim Walz announced the appointment Thursday morning, tapping someone from the industry — at least in the low-potency side — rather than someone with experience in government. The director of the new office can begin work immediately, but the job is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
“DuPree is a proven and effective leader, who will be successful in standing up Minnesota’s new adult-use cannabis market and helping Minnesotans succeed in the industry,” Walz said in a statement.
The statement calls DuPree an entrepreneur, small business owner and consultant to start-up businesses. She founded, and is vice president of sales and operation, for Loonacy Cannabis in Apple Valley. She is also a founder and vice president of Cook and Quinwood Consulting in Plymouth.
“I look forward to working closely with all the legislators, stakeholders, and advocates who worked so hard to pass this new law and am committed to the work of ensuring Minnesota’s new adult-use cannabis industry will grow and thrive for years to come,” DuPree said in the same announcement.
In a post on LinkedIn, Dupree says she has used cannabis since 2015 to manage symptoms of autoimmune disease.
“From helping regulate pain, reduce inflammation, and help me get the rest my auto-immune disease was stealing, I got my quality of life back. Something I had relinquished as ‘mine’ years ago,” Dupree posted. “I am passionate about sharing my cannabis knowledge and I now do that through Loonacy. We are a hemp derived dispensary in Minnesota, but soon we will be transitioning into a solvent-less extraction company as Minnesota moves towards Marijuana legalization. In that capacity I will be able to do my own formulations in edibles and vapes.
“I am excited to help other entrepreneurs develop their ideas into successful businesses in the cannabis space up here in MN. We are about to boom, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur!”
During a brief press conference Thursday morning, DuPree said she was not a participant in the state’s medical marijuana program and said she didn’t want to talk about her experiences using cannabis for her medical condition.
“The medical program is important, especially with what we have here, because it is not taxed. We’re not going to tax people for medicine that helps them feel better,” DuPree said. “No, I do not have a medical card in this state. And that’s all I’m really gonna say about that. This isn’t about me. This is about Minnesotans and Minnesota businesses.”
DuPree said she will sell her company and begin work for the state next month. She said she doesn’t have experience in government but has consulted in other states for businesses that were navigating rulemaking and state regulation.
“So even though I don’t have experience with that here in Minnesota, I do in other states,” she said. “Not to mention that because I don’t have a background in that I don’t have any baggage. I’m coming here with an open mind and ready to work with everybody.”
The new agency will have 150 employees to oversee a business that DuPree said will have more than $1 billion in sales. She said she thinks her experience starting businesses and consulting with startups gives her the experience needed.
“This is a giant start up, and I have done no less than a dozen of those. My experience does translate. The people we will be working with are people I already know. The industry itself, I’m well versed in. I understand what they’re already working towards,” she said. “My background definitely fits.”
DuPree said she thought the agency could be set up and have rules and regulations prepared in time for the anticipated spring of 2025 start for retail sales.
“We’re lucky that as the 23rd state to legalize, we can look back at the other 22 states to see what’s been good and what’s not been good and use that to create policy and rulemaking here,” DuPree said.
The newly named director had a phone call with Sen. Lindsey Port and Rep. Zack Stephenson, the Senate and House lead sponsors of the recreational marijuana law. She called it an introductory call.
“I will say that it went well, and I was a little star struck. As somebody who has been following the bill from the background for a while, it’s great to meet the people who put in the work to get it done,” DuPree said.
The other finalist for the job was Clemon Dabney, the chief science officer for Uniflora Holistics and the former director for the Red Lake Medical Cannabis Corporation.
Loonacy Cannabis is described as a business that formed in July of 2022, shortly after the state legalized hemp-derived edibles and beverages. “We sell high grade hemp derived products that were made legal with the 2018 farm bill. We only source quality products with proven potency that have COAs (certificates of analysis). No duds here. We are serious about helping our customers relieve stress no matter if that is needing a ‘Lift’ or a ‘Relax.’”
The appointment of the director is central to moving the state along an 18-month process aimed at having the first non-tribal recreational marijuana stores open by early spring of 2025. The director will need to fill top positions in the new agency and proceed with the laborious task of drafting rules that will govern the growing, processing and sale of marijuana products.
It must also draw up the plans for the law’s ambitious social equity program which seeks to provide access to the new business to people in communities that have seen the highest numbers of arrests and prosecutions — low-income census tracks that also have high numbers of people of color.
The new office must also prepare the rules and forms for 16 different licenses under the new law. And it will decide whether the state will have potency limits for marijuana and related products.
Minnesota will be the 23rd state to allow the sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes. It legalized medical marijuana in 2014. The medical program, now under the state Department of Health, will move under the Office of Cannabis Management by March of 2025. The medical regulators have also taken on the regulation and registration of hemp-derived businesses but will turn that over to the Office of Cannabis Management in 2025 as well.
Possession and use of marijuana became legal Aug. 1 but there is no legal supply outside a few tribal businesses unless users grow their own. That, too, is limited to no more than eight plants with only four producing usable marijuana at any time.
Last month the interim director of the cannabis office — Charlene Briner — said she had begun the process of posting the top jobs the new permanent director will need to fill quickly. Those seven senior positions were posted this month. They include finance director, general counsel, government relations director, tribal liaison and social equity director.
“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 last month.
The director job was posted in late June with a job description that seemed to favor someone with experience in government.
“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.”
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.
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