Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Four months after recreational marijuana became legal in this state, Minnesota continues its search for a director to head its Office of Cannabis Management.
The job is a big one, and the state should move carefully to get it right. This individual will be responsible for creating a regulatory framework for recreational cannabis in this state, including licensing, distribution and wholesaling. The state hopes to stand up a regulatory framework by 2025, including a process for licensing individual retail stores across Minnesota.
The rollout so far has been a bit ... rocky. The first director appointed was Erin DuPree, owner of Loonacy Cannabis Co. in Apple Valley. DuPree's tenure lasted a single day. She resigned amid reports that she had illegally sold high-dose cannabis products in her hemp store, including noncompliant vapes and edibles.
But there were other issues with her appointment as well. As a retailer, she lacked the regulatory and governmental experience that is, in fact, the most crucial aspect of this job and had been listed among the requirements. The state legislative auditor is now conducting a needed look into the apparently flawed vetting process that produced such a candidate.
Gov. Tim Walz, to his credit, has owned the hiring error. DuPree was vetted by multiple agencies, but the buck stops at the top, and that is the governor. Appropriately, he has followed through with actions to ensure no repeats. Deputy Chief of Staff Teddy Tschann told an editorial writer that the governor's office has added staff to oversee a more rigorous, multifaceted vetting process within the office.
Tschann said that includes a more robust implementation process overall, to provide a stronger, more strategic vision. That will be necessary because this is not the only new agency the office will have to stand up. In addition to the Office of Cannabis Management, the governor's office plans to oversee a long-sought and needed division of the massive Department of Human Services into separate, smaller agencies. It also must build out long-range implementation of the new family and medical leave act that takes effect in January 2026.
"We're changing a lot more than the vetting process here," Tschann said. "We need strategic road maps for these new agencies. The governor's office needs to lead that because we have a different lens, a different vantage point than any single agency."
Walz has already vowed to look nationally for the new cannabis director. That's a sensible move. The list of individuals who have the expertise to build from the ground up a regulatory framework for a brand-new industry is not long. And while Minnesota is the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana, the list of those with experience in government regulation of cannabis is even shorter.
In the meantime, the work of the cannabis office continues. Charlene Briner, a veteran of state government, is the interim head and has made a sensible pick in choosing Max Zappia to be the new agency's implementation chief regulatory officer. Zappia formerly was deputy commissioner of financial institutions at the state Commerce Department. In that role he oversaw regulation on state-chartered banks and state-chartered credit unions, along with mortgage-related businesses. He also has worked on cannabis-related banking issues since 2018 and developed the regulatory guidance for the state's financial institutions for hemp banking and helped lead interstate efforts to clarify federal cannabis banking regulations.
Briner noted in a statement that the primary goal now is to "launch a regulatory system that safeguards public health and safety, promotes equitable economic opportunity, and ensures a safe, reliable and accessible adult-use cannabis market." Zappia, she said, "has a national reputation as an experienced regulator who also prioritizes equity and sustainable business practices."
That is the kind of expertise Minnesota will need to take on the task of creating a statewide legalization model that can succeed where others have struggled.