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With marijuana legal soon, Minnesota cities race to enact limits on using it in public

The Duluth City Council is scheduled to hear a proposal to ban marijuana smoking or vaping in city parks and along the Duluth Lakewalk. Detroit Lakes, Alexandria, Lakeville and West St. Paul are also considering limits.

rolling a joint in a car
The new legal cannabis law makes it clear that smoking or vaping marijuana isn’t allowed in a vehicle, on public transportation, or anywhere where a minor would inhale the smoke or vapor.

Once recreational marijuana becomes legal in Minnesota on Aug. 1, will you be able to smoke it in a local park? On a public sidewalk? On a city street? Close to the entrance of a bar or restaurant?

The state’s new cannabis-legalization law says you can — and just about a week before legalization, leaders of some cities who want tighter restrictions on marijuana use have been rushing to update their local codes.

On Monday, the Duluth City Council is scheduled to hear a proposal to ban marijuana smoking or vaping in city parks and along the Duluth Lakewalk. The Detroit Lakes City Council will also vote Monday on a proposal to ban cannabis uses in almost all public places.

City leaders in Alexandria, Lakeville and West St. Paul are considering similar steps, too.

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Duluth council member Arik Forsman said he called for the ordinance after reading MinnPost’s reporting on the new law, which pointed out that Minnesota is set to become one of the rare states to allow newly legalized pot to be smoked or vaped in public — unless local governments specifically create rules against it.

“I won’t make a judgment on whether [the Legislature] should’ve gone further on defining the standard,” said Forsman, “but I will say I think folks are surprised that this is the state of it, and also surprised that we have so little time to address it. The Aug. 1 legal usage date’s coming up. I think there’s a lot of people scrambling, us included.”

Here’s what the law does and does not say

The Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act already bans smoking or vaping marijuana in the same indoor public places where state law says people can’t smoke tobacco products, including bars, restaurants, offices, stores and health clinics. Local governments can enact tighter restrictions — for example, banning smoking within 25 feet of a building entrance, as Ramsey County does — and some of these ordinances may apply to smoking marijuana, too.

Piggybacking off of these restrictions, the new legal cannabis law also makes clear that smoking or vaping marijuana isn’t allowed in a vehicle, on public transportation, or anywhere where a minor would inhale the smoke or vapor.

So that’s where you can’t smoke. The law also carves out spaces where you clearly can smoke: Local governments are barred from making cannabis use illegal in private residences, including the yard or patio; in private property not accessible to the public; or — eventually — at specially-licensed cannabis festivals. (There are a few exceptions around areas like rental properties.)

Between those guardrails, local governments have leeway to regulate where you can and cannot consume marijuana products: The new law empowers local governments to make cannabis use “in public” a petty misdemeanor offense.

Local governments have had to navigate changing messages. As recently as late June, guidance from the state’s newly formed Office of Cannabis Management had advised that “smoking cannabis is prohibited anywhere smoking commercial tobacco is prohibited.” The guidance has since been revised and now no longer says this.

Spokesperson Peter Raeker said in an email that the Office of Cannabis Management “will continue to update guidance on a range of topics as we work to understand the complexities and intersections of this expansive new law.”

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Raeker also noted state officials are working with city and county organizations “to determine the best way [the office] can support local government to develop local ordinances.”

These cities are considering cannabis use ordinances

  • Duluth: Forsman supported marijuana legalization, but also noted that his city was also among the first in the state to pass an indoor tobacco smoking ban and has a “progressive” track record on the issue. Interestingly, his proposed cannabis ordinance opened a new can of worms: In drafting the legislation, city attorneys discovered Duluth’s smoking ordinance didn’t cover all of the locations officials assumed it did — so Forsman’s proposal would also ban both marijuana and tobacco smoking and vaping in all city parks, as well as in the city-owned Wade Stadium, near transit shelters and within 100 feet of medical facilities. The proposal by Forsman and his co-authors — council members Terese Tomanek and Roz Randorf — will not apply to other public areas like sidewalks or streets.
  • Alexandria: A proposed ordinance would cover “any and all public places,” specifying public beaches, piers and trails on a long list of areas where smoking, vaping and edibles would be off-limits.
  • Detroit Lakes: City council members didn’t list places where marijuana use would be prohibited; the ordinance simply declares cannabis use unlawful “in public places anywhere in the city.” Council members are scheduled to vote on final passage of the ordinance Monday. “It’s very much like prohibiting the use of a can of beer on the beach. We have that in our ordinance,” Detroit Lakes Alderman Wendy Spry said at a meeting earlier this month. “To me, it’s mirroring that kind of approach.”
  • Lakeville: A new draft ordinance would bar cannabis use on government-controlled property and on private property that is “regularly and frequently” open to the public.
  • West St. Paul: City council members will discuss the issue during an open work session, according to the West St. Paul Reader.

(Does your city or county belong on this list, too? Let us know.)

Minneapolis is still weighing its next steps, but for now, marijuana use in a city park is allowed.

Tobacco smoking and vaping is banned in Minneapolis parks, except for use in spiritual ceremonies. Until late last week, the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board’s website had mirrored the state guidance that the tobacco policy would carry over to cannabis use as well.

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But the Park Board’s changed after the state guidance changed, spokesperson Dawn Sommers said. For now, there is no ordinance covering cannabis use in Minneapolis parks and rec centers.

“We too are still trying to understand the legislation passed and the plans of other park systems, particularly in the metro area,” Sommers said.

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Meanwhile, officials with the City of Minneapolis — who would be in charge of legislating use on a public sidewalk or street — say their regulatory work is “primarily geared” toward laying the groundwork for retail cannabis businesses, said spokesperson Sarah McKenzie. The city will eventually be responsible for issuing “local registrations and conducting compliance checks.”

To the east, the anti-smoking ordinance Ramsey County leaders enacted last year specifically bans marijuana smoking or vaping on county property — including county-controlled parks, trails, golf courses, playgrounds and pools. It also bans smoking or vaping within 25 feet of building entrances, exits, windows and ventilation intakes.

In a related area, state law allows for local governments to enact “time, place and manner” limits on operating cannabis businesses — for example, restrictions against opening a dispensary within a certain distance of a school or park.

The law also allows cities to enact a temporary moratorium on opening a cannabis business until it crafts these regulations. Several cities are considering or have already enacted ordinances that would temporarily bar cannabis businesses from opening, including Lakeville, Rochester, Hopkins, West St. Paul and Carver.

However, state law says these moratoria can only last until Jan. 1, 2025, and the League of Minnesota Cities has issued a legal opinion that says the moratoria wouldn’t apply to hemp businesses.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify details of the Duluth City Council’s proposed ordinance.