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With marijuana legalization nearing, some cities propose outdoor smoking ordinances

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By Richard Reeve KSTP

With Minnesota’s Aug. 1 legalization date looming, Duluth city leaders are proposing an outdoor marijuana smoking ordinance.

“The state law allows for the public consumption of marijuana to be legalized,” says Duluth City Council Member Arik Forsman. “Unless there’s a city ordinance in place that specifically prohibits it.”

Forsman is the chief sponsor of a measure that would ban smoking marijuana in public spaces like parks and bus shelters.

He says there’s also discussion about expanding the ban to parking lots and decks, but it would not include sidewalks and streets.

“The main concern is that we’ve got people who visit our green spaces, and they didn’t want to necessarily have to stand next to somebody who might be engaging what is a legal activity but still has side effects for other folks,” Forsman explains.

Right now, state law primarily focuses on consumption in confined spaces.

Smoking marijuana in multifamily dwellings like apartments or condos and in your car will be illegal. But it’s OK in the privacy of your own home or in an enclosed deck or backyard.

“A lot of states have taken the approach that very explicitly prohibit public use,” notes Alex Hassel with the League of Minnesota Cities. “Minnesota’s law is a little bit silent on that.”

She explains the state law also prohibits smoking marijuana where a minor could be present.

Some potential outdoor bans, Hassel says, could be difficult to enforce.

“There could be a lot of areas in which maybe there isn’t a minor when you’re maybe present and then that changes in five minutes on a sidewalk,” she says.

Legalization advocates say they’re not surprised proposed outdoor bans are appearing.

“We certainly understand the public health justification for the smoking and vaping of cannabis,” declares Leili Fatehi with Blunt Strategies. “Especially in proximity to children and other vulnerable populations.”

But Fatehi says a blanket outdoor ban would be unfair to some users.

“Essentially you’re saying people who own their own homes, they can smoke and vape cannabis,” she says. “But somebody who is a renter under state law can’t do it in their home, and under the local law, there’s nowhere outside they can go consume by that means either.”

The League of Minnesota Cities says Alexandria and Detroit Lakes are considering outdoor marijuana bans as well.

The Duluth City Council is holding two review sessions before a vote on Aug. 14.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS is working to learn whether this is also something being considered in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“When state law changes the game, you have to react and address it as it makes sense within your city,” Forsman says. “So here in Duluth, I think parents and children, just being able to continue going to the playground as they can today without having to potentially deal with that is what we’re looking at here.”


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