Should smoking marijuana be allowed on sidewalks, in parks? Minnesota cities consider bans

In August, marijuana becomes legal in Minnesota for recreational use. Multiple cities across the state are considering whether to place restrictions on cannabis use in public places.

When Mayor Luke Hellier looks downtown Lakeville, he likes what he sees. He’s concerned about Aug. 1 when people 21 and older will be able to possess and use marijuana across Minnesota.

"We're the seventh largest city in the Twin Cities, the 30th fastest growing city in the country. So in my opinion, we're doing something right," Hellier said. "The last thing I want is a nuisance of marijuana smoke or vaping in the downtown that could prevent people from wanting to come to these businesses."

On Monday night, the Lakeville City Council is considering ordinances that would ban smoking in parks and other public places, and make it a petty misdemeanor to use cannabis in public.

People 21 and older can use cannabis on private property unless the owner prohibits it, according to the Minnesota Office of Cannabis Management. Hellier said cities across the state were under the impression that marijuana use would only be allowed in private spaces, not public, but two weeks ago, they learned both would become legal in August.

"We were really surprised that even that this was something we'd have to talk about because the state had basically signaled that they were going to be making all the rules," he said. "This new interpretation that popped up in early July kind of has cities scrambling."

The new law also makes it legal to possess or transport up to two ounces of cannabis flower in a public place. However, Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) said the new law stays "silent" on whether people can smoke on the sidewalk or at a public park, so that's up to cities.

"There’s a fair amount of local in the bill, and so I think it’s entirely natural that cities are taking this approach," Stephenson said, also comparing the city ordinances to banning alcohol consumption in a park or on the sidewalk.

Cannabis won't be allowed while driving, at public and charter schools, on school buses, at state correctional facilities, in places the smoke could be inhaled by minors, or on federal property, according to the state.

Minnesota also has the Clean Indoor Air Act on the books. It’s a state law that bans smoking and vaping in virtually all indoor public places and workplaces.

Hellier said Lakeville's ordinance would be a complaint-based system.

"A business would have to file a complaint, call the city or the police department, say ‘Hey, someone's smoking outside of my restaurant or out front of my business, and it's causing a nuisance,’ and so then, we would come and cite that person," Hellier said.

On Monday night, the Lakeville City Council will also discuss banning all cannabis sales in the city until 2025, but Hellier said that needs further discussion, in part because of how it would affect businesses that are already licensed to sell hemp products.

Lakeville isn’t the only city having discussions about regulating cannabis use.

Duluth city councilors introduced an ordinance Wednesday that aims to prohibit smoking marijuana in city parks and several other locations. The city councils in West St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights will be asked at meetings on Monday night whether there’s a desire to implement an ordinance that restricts the use of cannabis in public spaces.

The proposed ordinance in Inver Grove Heights was modeled after similar proposals in Apple Valley and Prior Lake.

On July 17, the Prior Lake City Council voted to ban the operation of cannabis businesses. The council also voted to ban the use of cannabis in public, including smoking, vaping and edibles. Using cannabis in public will be a petty misdemeanor.

On July 13, the city of Apple Valley directed staff and the city attorney’s Office to prepare an ordinance regulating cannabis use within public property and public places.