Apr 25, 2023 - News

THC seltzers can't be sold in Minnesota liquor stores. Some are doing it anyway

THC seltzer cans on a shelf

THC drinks line the shelves at a Northeast Minneapolis liquor store. Photo: Audrey Kennedy/Axios Twin Cities

THC-infused drinks are popping up at liquor stores across the Twin Cities, even though they technically aren't allowed to be sold for now alongside beer, wine, and spirits.

Why it matters: The trend underscores the high consumer demand for the buzz-generating beverages and the largely unregulated state of Minnesota's burgeoning hemp-derived THC industry.

Catch up fast: Last summer's legalization of hemp-derived edibles set off a THC beverage boom, as breweries and others began producing drinks that can get people high.

  • Without licensing requirements or other regulations restricting beverage sales, the products soon began appearing at bars, restaurants, gift shops, beauty salons, and even some grocery stores.

Be smart: Minnesota's arcane booze laws only allow liquor stores to sell specific items permitted by the state. THC beverages aren't on the list.

  • Without an addition, state regulators and industry leaders have warned municipal and private liquor stores that the sales are off-limits for now.

Yes, but: Despite that guidance, Axios in recent weeks has spotted the beverages in at least a half dozen liquor stores in recent weeks.

  • Some featured entire coolers or shelves with 10 to 20 brands or flavors. At high-end shops, employees guide customers through the options as they would a bottle of wine.

What they're saying: Stores contacted by Axios declined to comment or did not respond. "We don’t really want to put more attention [on] something liquor stores aren't supposed to sell," the general manager of one retailer south of downtown wrote in an email.

What we're hearing: Some stores have decided the risk of flouting the law is worth the revenue, especially given the relatively lax enforcement of the new industry, while others are waiting until there's more clarity in the law.

  • "It is really a retailer-by-retailer decision at this point," said Jason Dayton, co-founder of the THC drink Trail Magic, which counts liquor stores among its wholesale clients.

Between the lines: The state Board of Pharmacy, which is tasked with regulating THC products, says it doesn't have the authority to issue fines or inspect liquor stores.

  • The Department of Public Safety's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, meanwhile, told Axios that for now it's focusing on education and requests for voluntary compliance.

By the numbers: The DPS division, which since August 2022 has received 54 complaints about THC products at liquor stores, issued just one warning and one $2,000 fine last year and none in 2023 as of mid-April.

The intrigue: Some stores are now getting creative when it comes to offering the beverages while complying with the law. France44 recently began selling the products in the foyer that connects its liquor and cheese shops.

  • The retailer has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Axios.

What we're watching: Language in the bill to legalize marijuana would clear up the confusion by giving liquor stores permission to sell the drinks.

Axios' Audrey Kennedy contributed to this report.


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