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Area municipalities approve cannabis use ordinances in public spaces

Municipalities around east central Minnesota have recently passed ordinances regarding the public use of cannabis.

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Pine County Board approved a public use ordinance, limiting the use of cannabis products in public spaces not maintained by cities.

Prior to the approval, the board held a public hearing, and during their discussion, the board went back and forth over whether cannabis use should be allowed in memorial forests since alcohol and tobacco use is allowed.

“Originally, I thought why would we put the ordinance in the memorial, and I have been thinking about it since then,” Commissioner Matt Ludwig said.

Ludwig said the argument that you can drink in a memorial forest is not the same because that goes in your body, but smoke does not. He felt that including memorial forests allows Pine County Sheriff’s Deputies to use discretion when a problem occurs.

“If the law is there and there is a problem, then the officers that respond have a tool that they can use,” Ludwig said.

Sheriff Jeff Nelson told the board that he would like as many resources as possible for his deputies when out in the field.

“My stance now is the same as it’s been. I don’t know if it’s going to be enforced, but at least having a tool — if we have something we can work with, it does help us,” said Sheriff.

The state is still deciding on rules surrounding cannabis use in state forests, so the county may adjust its ordinance in the future.

Commissioner JJ Waldhalm raised concerns about singling out cannabis when cigarettes and cigars can be smoked in a memorial forest. He felt the board should wait until the State of Minnesota makes a decision regarding cannabis use in state forests.

Commissioner Josh Mohr, who made a motion to include memorial forests in the public use ordinance, said he wanted to include them for now and the board can always remove it later.

Also on Sept. 5, The Isanti County Board held a public hearing on a similar public-use cannabis ordinance.

Vice chair Alan Duff thanked attendees for sharing comments, which were largely in favor of the regulation.

“I want to thank the public for their comments — a lot of good points,” Duff said. “And I want to thank our attorney Jeff (Edblad) for proactively putting together this ordinance. As you’ve heard the comments from the public, they’re pretty strongly in support of this.”

After a brief conversation to clarify the definition of public and private spaces, the board approved the ordinance unanimously.

One of the public commenters at the Isanti County public hearing was Cambridge city administrator Evan Vogel. Cambridge passed its public-use ordinance during a meeting on Aug. 7.

“We are happy with this as a starting spot,” Vogel said at that meeting. “There will probably need to be amendments over time, there probably will need to be additions, particularly once we start to talk about the other ventures that are included.”

A violation of the city’s measure would constitute a petty misdemeanor. Vogel said an $80 citation would be issued for a first offense, raised to a $100 penalty for subsequent offenses.

Also in Isanti County, the Braham City Council passed a measure to ban the use of tobacco and cannabis products in defined public spaces.

According to interim city administrator Lynda Woulfe, the measure was modeled based on ordinances out of Duluth and Pine County.

The ordinance passed unanimously, and Braham Mayor Nate George said he supported ensuring the quality of life for the city’s residents and businesses.

In August, the Mora City Council directed city staff to draft a public-use ordinance after an update from the city’s cannabis committee.

The council was presented with a template for what city legislation might look like, and is expected to discuss a measure during its Sept. 19 meeting.

Mayor Jake Mathison said when an ordinance is passed, it will likely need to evolve over time.

Additionally, the Pine City Council approved moving forward with selling low-potency THC beverages and gummies at the municipal liquor store during a meeting on Sept. 6.

Voyageur Bottle Shop Manager Lara Smetana said the city has until Oct. 1 to register with the State of Minnesota with no cost. She stated that the cities of Mora and Isanti began selling the products, so the Pine City Liquor committee is in favor of moving forward.

While there is a moratorium on cannabis sales in Pine City, these low THC products are hemp derived and were legalized by the state last year.

Smetana says this will also allow her and bottle shop staff to be ready when cannabis sales begin in the future.

“This gives us a slower start to be able to educate the community about how all of this works instead of just jumping into it,” said Smetana.

City Administrator Scott Hildebrand said the city has been working with a resident on educating themselves about cannabis products.

“Ideally, it’s start out selling just a few products, and they would probably be his,” said Hildebrand. “It supports Pine City, somebody local, which I think is good, but also, it’s forming that partnership of using the information he gains.”

Councilmember Kyle Palmer felt that selling these products would create a monopoly since other residents have not had a chance to work directly with the city.

Smetana says the rules from the state will have them pick and choose products.

“It has to be very specific as far as how much can be in a package and what’s the potency. When it [THC products] first came out with the state, it was very willy-nilly. They [THC manufacturers] said what it was supposed to be but that necessarily was what it was. When they started testing stuff [products], some stuff had way more potency than it was supposed to have,” said Smetana.

As more regulations are passed, the liquor store expects to have more and more products to choose from.

Ordinances are expected to change and evolve as more information becomes available.

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