Willmar enacts emergency ordinance regulating sales of THC products

·5 min read

Jul. 19—WILLMAR

— When the state of Minnesota made it legal to sell and purchase edible THC products derived from hemp, it caught many legislators, as well as local municipalities, off guard — nobody seemed to be expecting it, including the city of Willmar.

In order to have something in place regulating the selling and purchasing of these THC products, the Willmar City Council on Monday passed an emergency ordinance temporarily regulating the sale of THC cannabinoid products in the city. The ordinance went into effect at 1 a.m. Tuesday.

The legislation passed by the state allows the sale of edible or consumable products that contain no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, if derived from legally certified hemp. THC is a psychoactive compound that produces an intoxicating effect, whether it's derived from hemp or marijuana.

Delta-9 THC is the main cannabinoid that causes intoxication. Delta-8 THC, which is significantly less intoxicating, has been legal in Minnesota since 2018.

When introducing the ordinance, City Attorney Robert Scott said, "This item is in response to a recent change in state law that took effect on July 1. You can see in the coverage of this that it was kind of surprising to a lot of people that it was included in legislation to pass and took effect so quickly."

Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin echoed Scott's thoughts, adding more context.

"I was in a meeting last Wednesday with the Minnesota Mayors Together and this issue was brought to our attention," he said, noting he asked city staff to begin drafting the emergency ordinance at that time. "Representative (Dave) Baker has been on the radio talking about how difficult this is for him, because of his opposition to addictive types of products and, basically, they were totally unaware that this was even in the bill. Of course, that doesn't excuse anybody from having not read the bill and voting on something they haven't read."

The new state law says that edible or consumable THC products containing less than 0.3% THC derived from hemp are now legal and are no longer defined as a controlled substance, according to Scott. These products can be legally sold to adults in Minnesota age 21 and older.

"The state law had some requirements for packaging of these products, but did not otherwise regulate who could sell them, where they could be sold," Scott informed the council. "It appears state law left room for cities to establish those regulations if they so choose. A lot of cities are looking at this right now and taking a variety of approaches."

He noted the emergency ordinance will streamline and speed up the process for regulations in the city to take effect, because it does not need to be introduced for public hearing — the council just needs to approve it by a vote of six and the ordinance will be in effect for no longer than 60 days.

"The idea with this approach is getting some basic requirements in place that regulate how these products could be sold until such time as we can draft a more specific and thoughtful licensing program," Scott said.

"The major public safety, public health issue that this ordinance responds to would be these products are not yet legal for minors, or essentially anyone up to age 21, and they have not been found safe for children to consume. So this ordinance would place some basic parameters, basic requirements for how these supplies can be sold in the city, but not make the sale illegal. It would say that any business engaged in sales of these products has to follow certain requirements."

City Councilor Michael O'Brien told the council that he saw a business with a sign stating it was selling THC legally, and asked if that was possible. Scott clarified that as long as an edible product contains less than 0.3% THC, it is legal now in Minnesota.

One of the requirements of the city's new ordinance is a fixed location. Word of someone selling products from a tent was discussed Monday.

"Did we have to shut somebody down that was selling out of a tent? I understand it was a temporary tent that was set up," said City Councilor Julie Asmus.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt informed the council that no tickets or arrests were made, but the Police Department was aware of some social media postings by someone claiming to sell THC products from a tent.

Councilor Audrey Nelsen said she saw the tent set up, as well.

City Administrator Leslie Valiant noted that if there was a tent set up to sell the products, it was not permitted, as is required by the city.

City Planning and Development Director Justice Walker affirmed what Valiant said, adding that building officials issue permits for people doing business from a temporary tent or site, and none have been issued for the sale of THC products.

The emergency ordinance, which came into effect at 1 a.m. Tuesday, July 19, will be in effect for no longer than 60 days. The ordinance outlines guidelines for selling specific THC products within the city of Willmar.

* Any entity which chooses to sell products containing THC within the city of Willmar must provide the city clerk with written notice identifying the person or entity conducting the sale of the product(s) and the permanent location of the place of business at which such sales may be made.

* Sales may only be made to individuals who are 21 years of age or older, and the products shall be stored behind a counter or other area not freely accessible to customers, or in a case or other storage unit not left open and accessible to the public.

* Customers will have to request the THC product(s) from the person or employee of the entity selling them, and the person or employee of the entity will have to physically hand the product to the customer.

* Sales will not be allowed from movable or mobile places of business; only fixed-location businesses may engage in the sale of a THC product(s).