The sign outside says it all: “This is not marijuana. It will not get you high. These are hemp plants.” Why the warning? Because the sign serves as an alert to thieves who might mistake this suburban greenhouse’s plants for the variety that can produce a high.

Paul Frank from Hemp Solutions of Minnesota has been our tour guide in this growing industry for years now, taking us through the journey of the newly legalized cannabis business in Minnesota. Step inside the greenhouse, and you instantly realize that, with 3,000 different varieties grown here, this operation is big. “We have 14 strains that you’re looking at here and we grow for CBD extraction,” Frank says.

Inside a Hemp Solutions of Minnesota greenhouse.

CBD is where the money’s at in the ever-changing hemp market, with products and stores cropping up everywhere. Hemp and CBD cannot get you high, but products made with CBD tout a spectrum of benefits, including relief from pain, anxiety and insomnia.

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With 80 out of 87 Minnesota counties now growing hemp – and a dramatic increase in the number of growers from seven in 2016 to 723 in 2019 – Almanac reporter Mary Lahammer recently took a look at the forces fueling this growing industry in the state.  

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This indoor location is new for Frank, who wants to grow year-round in addition to cultivating traditional outdoor crops. The option of growing outdoors offers more volume, but also exposure to Minnesota’s weather. Soy beans and sugar beets have suffered in a wet, cold weather year because some farmers couldn’t get in their fields to plant and harvest – but Frank says hemp naturally grows well in our climate. “I think hemp fared very well. We grow 50 acres outside and we were able to get everything harvested.”

He takes us through the elaborate process of growing the green, leafy plant to hang-drying it, much like tobacco leaves. Next, they buck it by hand to separate the stem from the flower and the buds. A heated concrete floor also assists the drying process. Then, they can mill and granulize it to extract the medicine that’s taken in a variety of ways.

Dried hemp in the greenhouse.

We were surprised to learn that people are marketing, selling and smoking hemp in Minnesota. “Several states are trimming and selling smokable flower in CBD stores. They’re doing it,” Franks says. But he adds that, because of what’s happened with the illnesses from vaping in this country, “Smoking has been elevated because of that.”

Testing is rigorous, not just to make sure of negligible levels of high-inducing THC, but also for real, usable levels of medicinal CBD. Medicinal hemp producers want lots of CBD and not THC.

Paul Frank has put a lot of time and money into the great unknown of the cannabis business so far. So we asked him if it was a financially viable venture now. “It will be, we’re close. We’re in it for the long haul, not quick-buck artists. We want to be good at growing and deliver the best CBD out there,” he concludes.

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Will Minnesota lawmakers legalize recreational cannabis use in 2020? Despite some bipartisan support, efforts stalled in 2019. Revisit this debate between State Senator Melisa Franzen and Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota’s Kim Bemis.  

In January 2019, the National Safety Council announced – for the first time in history – that the odds of dying as a result of an opioid overdose now exceed the odds of being killed in a vehicle crash. Discover 6 things you need to know about the opioid epidemic.

Cara Schulz is a citizen activist and a cancer patient – a mix of experiences that she hopes will push lawmakers to consider how people like her, who rely on pain management medication, will be impacted by legislation aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic.