Minnesota’s Top Medical Cannabis Director Steps Down After Five Years!


Chris Tholkes, the longstanding Director of the Office of Medical Cannabis within Minnesota’s Department of Health, announced her resignation this week, marking the end of a significant five-year tenure. Since 2019, Tholkes has been instrumental in shaping Minnesota’s medical cannabis landscape. Her departure to become the City of Minneapolis’ director of health operations signals a notable shift in her professional focus and leaves a void in state-level cannabis regulation.

Tholkes’ role in the Office of Medical Cannabis was pivotal in expanding medical marijuana programs and shaping legislation for adult cannabis use. Her efforts have seen over 2,800 businesses, including liquor stores, hemp shops, and breweries, register to manufacture or sell hemp-derived cannabis products in Minnesota​​.

The state’s Health Department, which oversees both medical cannabis and the low-dose, hemp-derived THC edible and drink market, faces new challenges following Tholkes’ exit. Her experience and insight into complex regulatory affairs were widely acknowledged. Jason Tarasek, a prominent Minnesota cannabis attorney, highlighted the state’s difficulty without Tholkes’ wisdom and experience.

In the interim, Alex Hooper, the current assistant director of the state health department’s Health Regulation Division, will be the temporary medical cannabis director. Hooper brings relevant experience from his prior work with the Arkansas Department of Health’s medical marijuana section.

Minnesota Medical Cannabis Director Resigns

Minnesota’s cannabis regulatory landscape is still evolving, with the state actively seeking a permanent director for its new Office of Cannabis Management. This office is tasked with overseeing the creation and regulation of the state’s recreational marijuana industry. The search for a seasoned regulator continues, following the resignation of the first appointee, Erin DuPree.

Currently, the Office of Cannabis Management operates under the interim leadership of state government veteran Charlene Briner. The office recently added Max Zappia as the chief regulatory officer, playing a crucial role in establishing the regulatory framework for the burgeoning industry. The state anticipates opening retail dispensaries by early 2025, a significant milestone in Minnesota’s cannabis journey.

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In her new role in Minneapolis, Tholkes will oversee the development and implementation of city health policies and strategic planning. Her statement reflects a commitment to contributing positively to her community and ensuring the safety and health of Minneapolis residents.

Tholkes’ departure marks the end of a notable chapter in Minnesota’s cannabis regulatory history and the beginning of a new era in city-level health management. Her contributions at the state level have set a high standard for her successors, and her move to city health operations is a testament to her commitment to public health and safety.

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