Minnesota’s two vertically integrated medical cannabis businesses are advocating for the legalization of smokable flower during the state’s 2020 legislative session in an effort to make the program more affordable for both businesses and patients.
The program has been slow to expand since its 2014 launch, partly due to the high costs associated with an extract-only market, according to Bill Parker, CEO for LeafLine Labs, one of the state’s two cannabis licensees. State law prohibits flower, leaving businesses no choice but to produce higher-priced, extract-based products such as oils, oral suspension, sublingual sprays, capsules and topicals.
“Throughout the years, what we’ve heard from patients and potential patients within the state is there are two major problems with the program as it currently sits,” Parker told Cannabis Business Times. “The two issues are access and affordability.”
LeafLine ramped up its lobbying efforts last year to support legislation to expand accessibility, and the law was ultimately revised to allow the state’s two licensed businesses to expand into eight dispensaries (called “care centers” in Minnesota). Previously, each licensee was allowed to operate four care centers.
“When it comes to affordability, we’re kind of hamstrung as a business because we have to manufacture these products,” Parker said. “There’s extraction, there’s formulation, there are multiple steps to this that just increase the cost of the product itself. What we see in a lot of markets that introduced smokable flower, vapable flower—basically raw flower forms—[is that] the average expenditure comes in at a third of what it does in extraction markets. … We feel strongly that one of the ways to address the affordability issue is to introduce raw flower formats within Minnesota’s current law.”
Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) is expected to introduce legislation at the start of the next legislative session in February that would legalize smokable cannabis in the state.
“I’m hoping to meet with her and her staff … to see how we can help support that bill,” Parker said. “We’re also working with the other manufacturer, [Minnesota Medical Solutions], to ensure that we have a unified voice here, that we’re both promoting the program and really trying to get the medication into more Minnesotans hands. That’s the end goal.”
The Minnesota legislature is currently split between a Democratic House, which Parker said has largely been supportive of both medical and adult-use cannabis legalization, and a Republican Senate, which has been opposed to adult-use and has historically opposed raw flower in the state’s medical program.
“It’ll be interesting to see how receptive the Senate is this year,” Parker said. “That’s probably our biggest hurdle here.”
If lawmakers do ultimately approve smokable cannabis, LeafLine is prepared to adjust some of its cultivation and harvesting techniques to transition from an extract-only market to one that allows flower.
“Since we’re an extract-only [market], there are a few steps that we can omit in the harvesting and curing process, just because that plant is going to be extracted and the end user isn’t going to see the bud itself,” Parker said. “But in bud-friendly states, there’s something called bag appeal. You have to harvest a certain way to provide the best raw form of that flower. There are just a few extra steps, a few extra measures that we have to put in place. It should be a very easy switchover for us.”
The larger adjustment, he added, will be expanding LeafLine’s cultivation operations, a process that is already in the works.
“The biggest thing is that the program has been on a very slow growth curve since its inception in 2014,” Parker said. “There are a few conditions that were added this year and delivery routes that could help the program, but we feel to really advance the program and to get this to an affordable price point and to help out more ailing Minnesotans, [flower] is something that we have to introduce to achieve that goal."