The Office of the Legislative Auditor is expected to release tomorrow morning what it’s calling a “preliminary assessment” of the process Gov. Tim Walz “followed when appointing the Director of the Office of Cannabis Management” last fall.
At 9 a.m. on Thursday the non-partisan office managed by the legislature will publish the report on its website. The review was triggered in October just a few weeks after Erin Dupree, the small business owner Walz selected to serve as Minnesota’s first-ever cannabis czar, resigned one day after her introductory press conference, following several media reports citing inconsistencies in her resume and allegations that she had been selling products at her short-lived hemp derived edibles shop that contained a higher potency of THC than allowed by the state.
That controversy followed the DFL-controlled legislature’s approval of a recreational cannabis bill in May. As part of that legislation, the Office of Cannabis Management was created, and the governor was tasked with appointing its first-ever director.
Last week Walz told media members during a press conference he had not yet “circled back” on the status of his administration’s search for a new cannabis director appointee, but said “I think the work’s being done and I have to tell you I think we’ll get someone in there.”
“I am less concerned about that than the work that’s being done in the collaboration of building out of that infrastructure that’s going to have to happen, no matter who’s in there to do it,” Walz said.
In October Walz told a number of media outlets following Dupree’s resignation that his administration’s search for a new candidate to lead the Office of Cannabis Management would shift from an industry advocate to someone with regulatory experience. The governor reiterated that interest in finding a “regulator” in comments to media following a Jan. 17 press conference.
“I think you are seeing across the country, it’s challenging in this position, just because of what the nature of the job is, trying to find a regulator,” Walz said. “And I am encouraged though to see, and the one thing I brought up before, the federal government talking now about changing cannabis from schedule 1, I think those things start to align, the regulatory piece a little bit better, and I think you have people maybe willing to step in a little bit more and be willing to do this, because this is hard stuff.”
“We need to get it right. I am really pleased right now. You are seeing some of this work around cannabis flower, some of the enforcement, and we are making sure we are getting into communities, there is confusion around what should be on the market and what shouldn’t be.”
Walz has continued to lean on a longtime DFL caucus and state government employee he tapped last summer to lead the administrative work for the fledgling Office of Cannabis Management and the search for a new director. Charlene Briner once ran for (and lost) state legislature as a DFL-endorsed candidate. She then began a career as a communications specialist for the House DFL caucus. From there she was hired to serve in a number of different roles in executive branch agencies under DFL governors.
“I think the one thing to assure Minnesotans on is that Charlene Briner, and a lot of professionals over there, who are standing this agency up, lots of work is being done,” Walz said during an interview with WCCO Radio last October, just a few weeks after the fallout from Dupree’s hiring and subsequent resignation. “The office of hiring a director was just one piece of this and there has been a whole lot done ahead of time.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.