St. Paul City Council hears public input on proposed marijuana ordinance

St. Paul City Council hears public’s input on marijuana ordinance

St. Paul City Council hears public’s input on marijuana ordinance

The St. Paul City Council heard community input Wednesday on a proposal to ban marijuana, hemp and cigarette smoking in city-controlled public spaces.

Violations would be a petty misdemeanor.

Although the ordinance would ban the use of cannabis, hemp, and tobacco products in those spaces, officials say it wouldn’t prohibit possession of the products.

Recreational marijuana became legal in Minnesota on Aug. 1. Since then, a number of cities have enacted similar restrictions.

RELATED: Marijuana and more: New Minnesota laws taking effect Aug. 1

St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen said the council has to balance the personal right to use these products with the right to be free of secondhand smoke.

The Minnesota Medical Association said last week it supports the council’s proposal.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, Council Member Chris Tolbert, who drafted the legislation, introduced an amendment to reduce the scope of the ban to parks and within 25 feet of entrances, exits, windows and ventilation intakes of public places and places of employment within the city.

“This is balancing everyone’s enjoyment with clean air with people’s want to use certain substances,” Tolbert said.

Council Member Mitra Jalali introduced two amendments. One limits the smoking ban to “youth activity areas,” such as playgrounds and athletic fields; another lowers the penalty from a petty misdemeanor to voluntary compliance followed by an administrative citation.

Administrative citations are not currently allowed in St. Paul. A charter amendment would be required in order to use that enforcement strategy, according to multiple City Council members.

RELATED: St. Paul considers restrictions on cannabis use

“This is a nuanced situation and we shouldn’t be creating unintended consequences,” Jalali said. “I think every single council member here cares about our children having spaces for them to go to, whether they have their own space or not, that they can afford that — that’s what a public space is about. There’s a big, wide range of complexity of all of the different types of public spaces. We also know we have adults with needs.”

Both Tolbert and Council Member Jane Prince voiced support for a lower penalty.

“If we can lessen that, I’m 100% behind that,” Tolbert said.

Two dozen people testified on Wednesday.

Some community members defended the ordinance, saying it’s a public health issue to protect people from secondhand smoke.

“The risks of secondhand exposure to tobacco are well known, and secondhand marijuana smoke carries many of the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke,” said Sylvia Amos, who was testifying on behalf of New Hope Baptist Church in St. Paul. “Eliminating exposure to all secondhand smoke in public parks and recreational areas in our city is actually a step toward health equity.”

Critics, however, argued the proposal disproportionately affects renters because smoking marijuana in multi-family properties is prohibited under state law.

“Any use of cannabis, in my mind, as a health care worker, is for medical use,” said Kayla Fearing, medical cannabis patient and owner of Healing Fear Consulting, a medical cannabis advocacy company. “I’ve been on public housing. With this proposal, I would no longer have a safe space to consume my medicine that I have a state-issued prescription for.”

The ordinance also drew criticism from state lawmakers who were instrumental in drafting and passing the legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota.

“This was about racial justice for us first and foremost,” said Sen. Clare Oumou Verbete, DFL-St Paul. The disparities are really clear: We knew that Black Minnesotans were five times more likely than white Minnesotans to be arrested for possessing cannabis.”

“By criminalizing the use of cannabis on any city-owned property, you’re opening up the door for increased law enforcement interactions and that’s exactly what the legislation was attempting to reduce,” said Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul.

Council Member Rebecca Noecker responded during council discussion following the public hearing.

“This is not about undoing what the Legislature did,” Noecker said. “It’s about using the power the Legislature gave us to regulate a legal substance, as we do with many other legal substances, and this is about protecting public health.”

After hearing public comments, the council opted to table a vote on any amendments until next week’s meeting. A final vote on the ordinance would then come no earlier than Sept. 20.