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Douglas County deals with 'mess' from new THC law

Enforcement and testing is complicated, says county attorney.

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Dozens of bags of edibles were seized by the West Central Minnesota Narcotics Task Force in March of 2021. Many of the products look like brand-name products, like Doritos, or other products that appeal to kids.
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
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DOUGLAS COUNTY — As of July 1, the state legislature legalized the sale of hemp-derived THC in food and beverages, which Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said basically means “edibles,” as that is what’s on the horizon in terms of law enforcement concerns and public health concerns.

Under the new law, people 21 and older can buy products containing servings of up to 5 milligrams of THC. A single package of edibles — or drinkables — may not contain more than 50 milligrams.

Larson spoke with Douglas County commissioners at the Tuesday, Aug. 2, regular board meeting, about the legalization of THC , a psychoactive component of cannabis that gets users high.

An edible, he explained, is five milligrams or less, but that up to 50 in a package is a normal amount. If you eat two, he said it would equal what is considered illegal. He also noted that in Douglas County, there are at least five places that sell the now legalized forms of THC.

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Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson

“No license is needed to sell and the state didn’t provide us with any restrictions or regulations,” Larson said. “They left it up to municipalities and governments.”

He told the commissioners they need to decide if the county should regulate it and maybe pass an ordinance or something. His recommendation is that the commissioners work with other stakeholders, like the Alexandria City Council and Horizon Public Health.

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“We need to invite the city and public health and others and tackle this issue and come up with something,” he said. “The city and county should be on the same page.”

Larson added that it was his understanding the city voted against a moratorium and that he also does not recommend a moratorium on it as if the county did that, they would then have to come up with some sort of enforcement plan.

Alexandria City Attorney: "It caught everybody by surprise...There is zero guidance on how to make it work."

“It gets a little more complicated when it comes to enforcement,” Larson told the commissioners, noting that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension doesn’t have a plan for testing these things but the county could pay private labs to do it but then where would the funds come from.

“We have a mess here!” Larson stated.

Commissioner Jerry Rapp said he doesn’t know exactly what these types of products do to people and asked Larson if he would want people working for him if they ingested these types of edibles.

With some hesitation, Larson said, “I would not.”

Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen said he has enforcement issues with this new law, too.

He said his office has two certified Drug Recognition Experts, but that as drug use keeps going up, so will the need for more DREs. Those who are a certified DRE are trained to look for signs that would be caused by drug impairment rather than alcohol.

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Sheriff Troy Wolbersen

Wolbersen said, though, that those under the influence of THC are harder to process. With other types of drugs, he said they stay in a person’s system for about 24 hours after usage. THC will show in a system a lot longer than that, he said.

He said he wasn’t jumping on the side of Big Tobacco, but said people can’t buy candy cigarettes, which are just made of sugar. But, he said they can buy gummies that look like candy and have THC in them.

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Dozens of bags of edibles, which looked like candy, chips and other items often marketed toward youth, were seized by the West Central Minnesota Narcotics Task Force in March of 2021.
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

“Big tobacco was sued numerous times and told they can’t use cartoon characters and other things to commercialize their product toward youth,” said Wolbersen. “And here we have edible marijuana that looks like candy. We recovered a bunch of edibles in bags that look like Doritos and other stuff kids eat. It is being marketed to our youth.”

He added that he has two grandsons and that they like gummy candy, but he doesn’t and that it is definitely being marketed to the younger generation. Wolbersen also said that if it’s like Lay’s potato chips that advertise people can’t have just one, there’s going to be lots of problems.

There was no action taken by the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, but there are plans to work with city officials and other stakeholders to come up with a plan.

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Edibles seized by the West Central Minnesota Narcotics Task Force in March 2021.
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
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Edibles seized by the West Central Minnesota Narcotics Task Force in March 2021.
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
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Edibles seized by the West Central Minnesota Narcotics Task Force in March 2021.
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects lead and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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