As Minnesota prepares for recreational cannabis to become legal for consumption, possession and at-home cultivation on Aug. 1, a newly-created state agency to oversee the marijuana consumer landscape, anticipated expungements for prior weed-related offenses and a budding sales industry is now searching for a top boss.
On Friday, the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget posted (key word search: “cannabis”) a new job opening for a director of the Office of Cannabis Management. The agency was created as part of the sweeping bill passed by the legislature and then signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in May.
The director “will have the responsibility for building a new state agency from the ground up, and play a key leadership role in establishing and regulating an emerging new cannabis market in Minnesota,” a job summary states.
Even if you’re fond of cannabis and have first-hand experience with the plant, you’ll need at least “eight years of professional experience in regulatory oversight, public administration, business or law enforcement” to be considered for the top executive position with the Office of Cannabis Management, according to the job description.
“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 will pay between $105,000 and $151,000. Those seeking the position have until July 31 to apply.
Applications are being fielded by a Department of Agriculture consultant, Charlene Briner, who formerly worked for the House DFL caucus as a communications specialist, the Department of Health as a deputy commissioner, and has run for the state legislature as a DFL-endorsed candidate.
Gov. Walz will make the final decision from among a crop of applicants to appoint a director for the new office. He’s expected to name an appointee this fall.
Like many gubernatorial department heads, the Senate ultimately has the final say on confirmation on appointees, but does not have to take an up or down vote before the new director can begin working for the agency.
While it’s not required for applicants to have prior experience in the cannabis or hemp industry, it is listed as a “preferred qualification” for those applying for the job.
Other preferred experience listed includes:
- Demonstrated ability to partner with public and private organizations, special interest groups, elected and appointed officials, in situations which may be politically sensitive.
- Well established negotiation skills and an aptitude for building consensus through cooperation and coalition-building.
During the legislative session, bill sponsors mentioned often that even after the Aug. 1 enactment date the retail marijuana marketplace may not open in the state until at least 2025. But until then, beginning Aug. 1, residents can possess and consume certain amounts of marijuana, and grow it at home in limited quantities, as described by statute.
Who will Walz appoint to lead agency?
So who will the governor select as his new cannabis management czar?
It’s anyone’s guess. Several hemp and cannabis industry leaders testified at the legislature this session. Along with some of those leaders, a whole host of lobbyists who pushed for marijuana legalization the last few legislative sessions may also be well-positioned to lead the agency, based on some of the job qualification requirements and preferred experience listed in the job posting. It’s also possible current or former Walz commissioners could be considered for the job. And maybe even a former governor.
In May, when Walz held a signing ceremony for HF100 and invited former Gov. Jesse Ventura to attend and speak, members of the media asked Ventura whether he’d consider leading the new agency if asked.
While Ventura has seemingly joked with media that he would be interested in the position, Walz has only told media in recent weeks that his administration was working on developing job descriptions for the new department and said a candidate for its top position would need experience working with a host of other executive departments.
Other politicos who’ve been heavily involved in pushing for recreational cannabis legalization include chief authors of HF100, Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, and Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, and former state House Rep. and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.
Winkler stepped away from the House in December after his legislative term expired, following his failed bid for Hennepin County attorney. He ran the “MN Is Ready” campaign, focused on advocating for the marijuana legalization bill during the 2023 legislative session.
But should a lawmaker or lobbyist who pushed for legalization be allowed to lead the Office of Cannabis Management? Earlier this session, Republicans said “no,” and a DFL bill sponsor agreed. But language that was offered in an amendment during a Jan. 31 committee hearing never made it to the version that was passed and signed into law.
That language, introduced by Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, would have prohibited the new director of the Office of Cannabis Management from having been a legislator or holding a constitutional office within four years of appointment. Rep. Stephenson told Nash during that Jan. 31 meeting he supported that language and would include it in the final version of the bill. That never happened.
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.