KASSON, Minn. — Keep your joints at your own joint.

That’s the message from some Southeast Minnesota cities in the wake of the
legalization of recreational marijuana
usage that took effect Aug. 1, 2023.

While the law making Minnesota the 23rd state to allow adults to use cannabis recreationally was pushed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Walz to much applause by some,
cities and counties are struggling with two questions about recreational cannabis:
Where can it be sold, and where can it be smoked?

Kasson Mayor Chris McKern said the day legalization was passed, the city received multiple calls from people wanting to open cannabis dispensaries or to hold “pot parties” at local parks.

From the way the state law was written, McKern said, it was unclear when licenses for cannabis dispensary businesses will be available — though the state has indicated that likely won’t happen until 2025 — and as far as smoking in public, McKern said, initially he had no answer for that request.

The City of Kasson has passed an ordinance restricting the use of cannabis from city parks, trails, parking lots, buildings and any other city-owned property. The new ordinance is modeled after the city’s tobacco use ordinance, which limits the use of tobacco on city property as a means of limiting exposure to secondhand smoke by those who see it as a health risk or public nuisance.

The cannabis restriction in Kasson, modeled after language provided by the League of Minnesota Cities, includes edibles, not just smoked or vaped marijuana, McKern said. Though he added he’s not sure how the city will be able to enforce that.

None of those restrictions were written into the state law.

To be fair to the Minnesota Legislature, the state law legalizing recreational use of cannabis specifically set up a provision for cities and counties to enact more restrictive measures for the use of marijuana in public to fit the needs of each local government entity.

“It’s nice to have local control,” McKern said. “But yeah, a little more guidance would have been nice, because in two years, they’re probably gonna come in with some guidance and tell us what we have to do anyway.”

Kasson likely won’t be the last city in the region filling in the gaps around the state’s legalization law.

Law enforcement’s questions on recreational marijuana

So far, both Patrick Callahan and Josh Hanson, police chiefs of Zumbrota and Kasson, respectively, said neither city has seen any increase — or decrease — in the number of calls complaining about the smell of marijuana.

“It’s not an uncommon call,” Callahan said. “It’s often in an apartment complex or condominium atmosphere where people are residing a little closer together than a single-family home.”

In apartment buildings, Callahan said, often the law gets a little murky. Multi-family housing that accepts federal housing subsidies exists under federal regulations, and the federal government still considers marijuana use to be illegal, even medical marijuana. Residents using marijuana in an apartment building where federal subsidies are used might face eviction.

“All too often, in multi-family housing, we typically refer the complainant to the landowner,” Callahan said.

Zumbrota Police Chief Patrick Callahan.

Contributed / City of Zumbrota

Of course, it’s all a matter of what will get prosecuted, he said, and what can be investigated.

it’s now legal to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana,
Callahan said he’d need to prove to a judge that a person had more than that amount if he needed a search warrant. For someone who is just using it recreationally, that is unlikely.

Until Zumbrota passes ordinances concerning where marijuana can and cannot be used — and applies a punishment to violators — Callahan said he probably won’t be writing any tickets anytime soon.

“At what point will it not matter, because I can’t imagine our courts are going to do much about it,” he said. “They’re already talking about reversing decisions on previous cases.”

That said, Zumbrota’s concern is echoed across the region.

Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark said his city is also looking to set restrictions similar to its tobacco use ordinance for city properties. But that city isn’t rushing to put rules into place. Unlike Kasson and Zumbrota, Eyota does not have its own police department, so the city will
follow the lead of Olmsted County
and the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office for now.

“We already have rules for smoking tobacco cigarettes in the park,” Clark said. “We want to extend that to smoking in whatever form.”

Clark said Eyota is planning to update several items in its city code within the next six months. Since marijuana dispensaries in Minnesota will be few and far between until 2025, Clark said it doesn’t make much sense on the city’s part to rush any changes.

With regard to smoking marijuana in public places, Hanson said in Kasson, police likely will start with a warning for individuals. The big concern is making sure no one is smoking where those under the age of 21 can smell or come into contact with marijuana products.

Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo

No new pot shops

What Kasson has not done is pass a moratorium on new cannabis shops in town. The city has one business that sells hemp-derived CBD products. But getting a license for a marijuana dispensary likely won’t happen until January 2025, according to the state.

McKern said the City Council discussed the idea but decided against it since it views a moratorium as redundant while the state takes its time to figure out the rules it wants to put in place regarding how many dispensaries can be licensed in a city and what restrictions — how close to schools or day cares, for example — will be imposed on their locations.

“I’m in favor of anybody who wants to open a business,” McKern said. “We’ll just have to see what the guidance is. Will it be to allow so many dispensaries per set population? Or could there be more than one in Kasson?”

Clark said Eyota is also likely to forego passing a business moratorium.

The Pine Island City Council passed a moratorium on July 18, 2023, on new cannabis retail businesses through Dec. 31, 2024. In Byron, City Administrator Al Roder said the city will likely discuss the marijuana questions in the coming months. And in Chatfield, the city council has yet to wade into the discussion on either business licensing or public usage.

Stewartville City Administrator Bill Schimmel said: “We are currently reviewing the state guidelines so far, and how Stewartville will adapt. While no formal moratorium has been set up yet, the council has expressed some feelings to limit any available licensing only to the per-population standard we’ve seen, which would most likely be just one license available here in Stewartville, and then we will be looking into the zones where that license could be allowed.”

Like Eyota, Stewartville contracts with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office for its law enforcement coverage. Schimmel said Stewartville, at this point, will likely take the county’s lead regarding regulations on where marijuana can and cannot be used in public places such as parks or public facilities.

Meanwhile, Zumbrota City Administrator Brian Grudem said his city council has already started public discussion on a business moratorium and he expects to see one passed soon.

Looking to restrict pot

Callahan said not having any restrictions on usage other than the vague guidelines from the state — no marijuana usage in cars, no use in multifamily housing, restricted use around those under the age of 21, especially in public places — puts his department in an awkward place at the moment.

“I probably wouldn’t be able to write a citation yet,” Callahan said as he waits for his city council to address the public usage issue. He added that if he came across someone smoking pot in a city park, “They’d be asked to leave. If I’m correct, you’re still not supposed to smoke it in public places even with what the state has put out there.”

Part of the problem for cities, he said, is the state rushed its legalization law without determining the restrictions that needed to be set up for businesses and usage.

“This was not well thought through,” Callahan said.

And, truth be told, he was never a fan of legalization.

“I know people that poo-poo the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug,” Callahan said. “There are lots of people who’ve smoked marijuana in their lives who’ve never moved on to something stronger. But I don’t know any hard-drug users who didn’t start there.

“To me, this is a bad idea,” he said. “It’s going to be bad for Minnesota.”

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