Since Minnesota began targeting the illegal sale of raw cannabis flower in many registered hemp retailers, state agents have confiscated a significant amount of product with a substantial retail value.

The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) reports that inspectors have seized and destroyed 12,094 units of raw cannabis flower—including bags, jars, and pre-rolled joints—with an estimated retail value of $278,000. These illegal products, sourced from 58 different retail locations, totaled nearly 73 pounds of raw cannabis flower.

While it’s been legal to possess and use cannabis in Minnesota since last August, selling it remains illegal until next spring. Although many hemp-derived low-potency products like gummies and beverages have been legal since the summer of 2022, raw cannabis flower occupies a gray area. If it has low THC content, it could be legal. However, most products sold have exceeded the potency levels that separate hemp from marijuana.

The delay in cracking down on illegal sales is due to a gap in the 2023 law intended to regulate hemp products temporarily while establishing the OCM. The Office of Medical Cannabis was given temporary control over the hemp-derived market but not raw flower, only products like gummies and drinks.

This regulatory gap allowed some stores to sell flower that looks, smells, and intoxicates like marijuana, putting law-abiding retailers at a competitive disadvantage. The raw flower was often marketed as hemp with high concentrations of THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), which, when smoked or vaped, converts to THC.

Due to this loophole, inspectors lacked the authority to test products for THC levels. However, a test arranged by MinnPost earlier this year revealed that the flower being sold exceeded legal THC concentration levels, identifying it as high-potency cannabis.

State regulators devised a solution: an interagency agreement where medical cannabis inspectors could be deputized by the OCM to enforce the ban on raw flower sales. This agreement, effective since March 7, empowered inspectors to confiscate raw flower exceeding potency limits.

Inspectors reviewed certificates of analysis for all hemp-derived products and utilized a mobile testing lab. An enforcement notice to retailers threatened fines “in excess of $1 million” and warned that violators might jeopardize their chances of obtaining recreational licenses next year. However, no fines or citations have been issued so far.

Recent revisions to the state’s cannabis law, signed by Gov. Tim Walz (DFL), include provisions preventing the OCM from issuing licenses to businesses that violated the law after August 1, 2023, unless the violation was deemed a mistake, made in good faith, or did not involve gross negligence.

The updated law also moves all operations of the Office of Medical Cannabis, including regulation of the hemp-derived market, to the OCM starting in July, eliminating the need for the interagency agreement.

David Mendolia, owner of St. Paul Cannabis, was among the retailers who complained about the lack of regulation. He expressed satisfaction that illegal products are being removed from stores but questioned why no citations were issued.

Mendolia highlighted the unfair advantage some stores gained by selling illegal flower, stating, “The places that have been doing it have been reported by those who are better actors over and over and over and over.”

The legality of THCA flower remains contentious. Under federal law, plants with less than 0.3 percent THC by weight are classified as hemp, but when smoked or vaped, these plants can produce illegal concentrations of THC. A recent DEA letter clarified that THCA is considered marijuana, not hemp, suggesting that much of the THCA flower sold in Minnesota—and available online—may be federally illegal.

This story was first published by MinnPost.