A little more than eight months ago, Erin DuPree opened “Loonacy,” a low-potency, hemp derived edibles store inside a 1,100 square foot retail space at an Apple Valley strip mall. Over the summer the sliver of a store front, tucked between a Chinese restaurant and a tailoring business at the East Valley Plaza, still had a temporary banner hanging from an outside window, just below a more permanent-appearing “CLEANERS” sign.
Now, DuPree, a rural Minnesota native and St. Paul resident has shut “Loonacy” down as she prepares to lead the creation of a 150-employee state-run Office of Cannabis Management.
On Thursday Gov. Tim Walz announced he had appointed DuPree, 43, to serve as the first ever director for the new office, which will regulate and oversee a new industry in Minnesota that’s estimated to generate at least $1 billion in annual sales (when licensing retailers begins in 2025.)
“With direct experience in Minnesota’s hemp and cannabis industry and over 20 years of success in launching, managing, and growing businesses and organizations, Erin DuPree is an outstanding choice to lead the Office of Cannabis Management,” Walz said in a statement Thursday. “DuPree is a proven and effective leader, who will be successful in standing up Minnesota’s new adult-use cannabis market and helping Minnesotans succeed in the industry.”
DuPree will officially begin the position on Oct. 1. Pay range for the position tops out at $151,000.
Walz began interviewing candidates last month, after the job was officially posted in July. That process was laid out in the recreational cannabis bill that was passed in the legislature this spring. Walz affixed his signature to the legislation in May, and then began his search for a qualified individual to lead the undertaking of helping the new state agency create a regulatory framework that will make Minnesota the 23rd state to allow retail sale of smokeable marijuana. It became legal to smoke recreational marijuana on Aug. 1, but retail sales won’t be allowed until the Office of Cannabis Management begins awarding licenses to applicants in early 2025.
Walz ultimately chose DuPree, from among a number of other candidates, to lead what she admitted Thursday will be a “big undertaking” to stand up a new regulatory authority for a brand new industry that was prohibited for several decades in Minnesota and other states.
Dupree said she is “really excited to create an industry for Minnesota that is really based on craft (level of businesses).”
“We want craft grows, and micro and mezzo businesses to be the heart of this industry,” DuPree said during a Zoom-style remote press conference with Twin Cities media. “I really want Minnesotans to know I am here for them and for businesses. We all know it’s going to take a ‘heave ho’ to get this going.”
A potpourri of small business ventures, including a short-lived edibles shop
So what experience will DuPree bring to her new role as the director of the 150-employee Office of Cannabis Management?
She was asked about that during her introduction to the media following Walz’s announcement on Thursday.
“I’ve been doing business here (in Minnesota) for the better part of 20 years as an entrepreneur and consultant,” she said, mentioning that in recent years she worked with “no less than a dozen” start-up retail marijuana businesses in other states where it’s been legalized. She briefly stated she has performed consultation and contract work with clients in California, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois — all states that have decriminalized recreational marijuana.
But her own trail of work history in Minnesota includes a potpourri of small business ventures and the formation of consulting entities dating back nearly two decades. In 2005 she took over a Plymouth-based home cleaning business, In the Pink Cleaning, that her mother had founded and ran it until 2016. She has also held herself out as an independent contractor for a home flooring install company, a small business coach and consultant and the founder of “Ekara Wellness” facility in Woodbury that operated for less than two years about a decade ago.
According to her LinkedIn profile, for more than five years, DuPree has owned her own consulting firm, Cook and Quinwood Consulting. She describes her role in that position as helping “businesses be better by analyzing financials, processes, systems, HR and IT to help companies build stronger, more resilient futures.”
But that business has been listed as “inactive” on the Minnesota Secretary of State business filings website since February. Cook and Quinwood Consulting LLC failed to renew its registration before the end of 2022, and was issued an “administrative termination” to inactive status on Feb. 1, 2023, according to its business filing with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office. That’s the same firm that Walz praised in his press statement Thursday, announcing DuPree’s appointment.
“She is also the founder, vice president of operations, and senior business consultant for Cook and Quinwood Consulting, providing consultations for businesses and start-up companies,” Walz said.
In July 2022 DuPree’s Cook and Quinwood Consulting LLC filed a new business registration with the Minnesota Secretary of State for “Loonacy LLC,” her hemp-derived edibles store in Apple Valley. In July 2023 she told the Pioneer Press “she plans to close her storefront in the coming days because she worries if she doesn’t, she will end up in an expensive legal fight with Apple Valley” as the city considered an 18-month moratorium on cannabis sales that she thought may impact sales of low-dose edibles.
That account conflicts somewhat with what she told media members on Thursday, when she said she was “in the process of selling (the store) due to this appointment.”
“I also have a consulting service that helps entrepreneurs in the cannabis space move forward; that is also being dissolved and given to another consultant due to this appointment,” she said.
That range of experience comes after the July posted job description for the director of Office of Cannabis Management asked for “eight years of professional experience in regulatory oversight, public administration, business or law enforcement” to be considered for the top executive position.
“The executive will lead planning and policymaking; regulatory functions including compliance, enforcement, and licensure; social equity; tribal relations; legislative relations and operations management. This position will ensure office activities align with statutes, rules and legislation governing the Agency.”
The job posting also said preferred applicants will have “knowledge of the cannabis and/or hemp regulatory environment” and “two years of managerial experience over one or more functional areas that includes overseeing professional and high-level management staff.”
While DuPree admitted to reporters on Thursday her experience didn’t necessarily match a handful of the qualifications asked for in the job description, she said she views that as a positive.
“So my consulting and contracting work in other legal states has made me familiar with what they typically do for regulatory, how they are handling bureaucracy in other states,” DuPree said. “So even though I don’t technically have experience with that here in Minnesota I do in other states. Not to mention, that because I don’t have a background in (government bureaucracy or politics), I don’t have any baggage. I am coming here with an open mind and ready to work with everybody.”
Naming an advisory council, hiring staff and hammering out a retail licensing plan
When DuPree takes the wheel at the Office of Cannabis Management next month, she said two of her first priorities will be to help Gov. Walz fill out a 51-member Cannabis Advisory Council that is required by the new law. She will also begin working with already existing Department of Administration staff in hiring up to 150 employees for the new agency. And then there is the task of hammering out a regulatory scheme and process for eventual retail sales of the product, which she said she expects to be before or by spring of 2025.
“If you look at other states, from the day they made it legal to when the first dispensary opened, for most states, it’s sitting between two and three years,” DuPree said. “I don’t see any reason why we won’t be able to meet or exceed those expectations.”
She said that the new office — which will temporarily be housed with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture — will have the advantage of leveraging technology to make that transition easier.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” she said. “We are lucky as the 23rd state to legalize — we can look back on the other 22 states and can see what’s been good, and what’s not been good and use that to create policy and rulemaking here.”
DuPree said she has already met briefly with legislators who carried the recreational cannabis bill over the last few years, but said her office will maintain its independence from influence by those policy makers.
“I will say (the meeting) went well, and I was a little starstruck, as I was somebody who has been following the bill from the background for a while,” DuPree said. “It was great to actually meet the people who put in the work to get it done.”
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.