During the spring session of the Minnesota State Legislature, a bill was passed into law legalizing adult-use marijuana. The law took effect Aug. 1, but there were numerous unresolved questions associated with it, primary among them the provision that it was up to local units of government as to how they would deal with cannabis-related issues.
In response to the ambiguity in the law, at its Aug. 15 meeting, the Wright County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the adoption of Ordinance 23-3 “Ordinance Regulating the Use of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products in Public Places.”
Wright County Attorney Brian Lutes said that the law left open the options for local jurisdictions to regulate where cannabis can and can’t legally be used. After numerous discussions with cities and townships, it was determined the best response would be to enact a countywide ordinance to prohibit use in any public areas.
“We’ve all heard a lot about the historic cannabis legislation that was passed,” Lutes said. “Most of it went into effect Aug. 1. There are some holes in the legislation. In multiple instances, the legislation makes certain behaviors unlawful, but does not prescribe a penalty for the unlawful behavior. One of those instances is use of cannabis in public. The statute makes clear that it is unlawful behavior to use cannabis in public but does not prescribe a criminal penalty for that behavior. Instead, there is a reference in the statute authorizing local units of government to pass an ordinance making it a petty misdemeanor to use in public.”
Lutes has spoken with mayors, township officers and educators at the All-County Safe Schools event over the last several weeks and the consensus has been that this issue needed to be addressed at the local level. He said that his staff created the countywide ordinance authorized under the statutory Public Health authority for which his office is entrusted.
Wright County Director of Public Health Sarah Grosshuesch provided the board with some background that compared the uses of alcohol and tobacco in public spaces with that of the newly-legalized marijuana law.
“Marijuana is still federally illegal and a Class 1 drug, which means that there isn’t as much research as we would have, for instance, on tobacco or alcohol,” Grosshuesch said. “The Legislature has been very clear that the legalization has been threading the needle between public intoxication with alcohol and smoke-free air with tobacco.”
Grosshuesch said there were four targeted areas of concern for Public Health professionals – secondhand smoke exposure, the normalization of the behavior of using marijuana in public, public impairment and the unintentional consumption of edibles or seltzers containing cannabis by children.
The county board opened the discussion to a public hearing, where a handful of residents spoke – all in favor of the new ordinance. After the public hearing closed, Board Chair Darek Vetsch said this is an ordinance that has been overwhelmingly endorsed throughout the county.
“I appreciate all the information Public Health provided,” Vetsch said. “I think the perception of normalcy as well of the potential exposure demonstrate a good finding for a public health risk, in which case it makes this ordinance very necessary and viable. For that reason, I support this ordinance and I appreciate the staff time that was put into this and the research that has been done bringing this forward.”
The ordinance took effect immediately upon passage, so while marijuana is now legal in Minnesota, it will only be allowed to be used on private property and places licensed to permit it in Wright County.