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When Will Minnesota Open Recreational Cannabis Dispensaries?

By John Wheeler

There are folks out there that would rather not see dispensaries open at all.  I’m not referring to the square, anti good time nay-sayers who have been kicking and fighting against all things marijuana since time immemorial, being that we are already painfully aware of that crowd’s entire trip.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of cannabis enthusiasts that would prefer to “leave it in the streets” as it were.  Largely it comes down to matters of quality vs pricing, along with various worries about the federal government still being able to bring the hammer down at any time.  The idea of scanning an ID in a retail setting leading to one’s name winding up on some sort of clandestine watchlist in the higher branches of government is an ugly notion to some, particularly those who have been burned in the past by law enforcement.

Whereas I do recognize the validity of these arguments, my personal preference is one of convenience and regulation.  Perhaps since I am older and have no stake in the underground, I would much rather swing by the corner store to get my needs met than go on any sort of adventure that could result in my leaving empty handed.  Furthermore, it seems to me that the existence of legit dispensaries pushes the entire issue towards normalization.  At some point, the few remaining states with draconian restrictions on grass will seem more and more weird and out of touch, which tends to be the process by which progress is made.

Indeed, the US government is officially rescheduling cannabis from level one down to level three.  No longer will bud be rubbing elbows with the likes of crack and heroin in the eyes of the D.E.A.  It will be joining the ranks of closely guarded prescription drugs while remaining a level above substances such as Xanax and Ambien, which still seems bonkers, but qualifies as a move in the right direction nonetheless.  Things don’t happen overnight, and that can be frustrating, but keep in mind that we’ve been fighting this fight for generations.

So where does that leave us here in Minnesota?  We hear a lot about 2025 being the year the doors open, but the plans on implementing legal licenses are ever changing.  The state is trying to stick by it’s goal of giving preference to those who have been marginalized by prohibition, but the sheer cost and requirements of getting a dispensary off the ground are completely at odds with the financial realities of those who have found themselves in the dire situations that both lead up to and follow operating on the wrong side of the law.  We’re talking MILLIONS of dollars (beyond the fees, don’t forget that opening and running any business comes with a multitude of large expenses that can be exacerbated by narrow margins) along with verified ownership of appropriately zoned commercial real estate.  Even then, success isn’t guaranteed; the failure rate of recreational dispensaries is higher than restaurants, which are notoriously risky ventures.  

Luckily, people far more knowledgeable and experienced than I are navigating these matters, and I’m optimistic that once the dust settles we’ll have a system that works for everyone, but it’s tricky.  Recently there has been a lot of talk about opening municipal dispensaries, which would be run by the city or county.  I’m not sure how that would solve the social equity dilemma, unless perhaps upper management positions would be solely filled from the aforementioned demographics.  Management doesn’t come with the stratospheric upward mobility that ownership brings, but it also bears far less risk.  Maybe it’s yet another one of those baby steps in the right direction.

Government-run cannabis stores would also come with a lot of bureaucratic issues; from the banking situation that plagues any federally restricted business, to the fact that there are many municipalities in this state that are already doing everything they can to sweep cannabis under the rug.

Despite the challenges and uncertainty, the news does appear to be more good than bad.  One way or another, 381 licenses will be awarded, and it looks like 51 percent of those will be going to the members of our community most in need of opportunity, and there are measures in place to assist with the formidable fiscal hurdles they will face.

Minnesota’s approach to cannabis dispensaries is groundbreaking, and our state’s commitment to responsible regulation sets a precedent for others. As we await the opening of Minnesota dispensaries, the industry eagerly anticipates a new era of cannabis accessibility in the land of 10,000 lakes.  Fortune favors those who never give up, and we ALL do better when we all do better.

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