Updated Sept. 6, 9:53 a.m. | Posted Sept. 5, 4 a.m.
The St. Paul City Council will hear testimony Wednesday on a proposal that would ban marijuana and cigarette smoking on city property.
The proposed ordinance would make it a petty misdemeanor to smoke cannabis flower, cannabis products and hemp-derived products on city-controlled property. It would ban smoking cigars, joints, blunts, pipes or vapes. It would also ban possession of a lit joint, pipe or other smoking device.
The proposal is sponsored by Ward 3 Council Member Chris Tolbert and describes the need to protect city residents from the dangers of second-hand smoke and to protect people under 21 from exposure to marijuana.
The regulation would also cover tobacco use because St. Paul doesn’t currently have an ordinance that bans cigarette smoking in city-owned spaces, Tolbert said as he introduced the bill last month.
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“It’s not just about you smoking, it’s the effects that it has on other people around you,” Tolbert said. “If you’re going to be smoking, it does affect other people, and that’s what we’re regulating.”
Ward 4 Council Member Mitra Jalali said at the meeting that she understands the need to ban from places like playgrounds, but is concerned about the level of restrictions in the proposal, which she said could undermine the State Legislature’s intent in legalizing marijuana to advance racial equity in the state and avoid unnecessary penalties.
“This is far-reaching language that would be sweeping in effect to all different types of parks facilities… it could extend to the public right of way, to sidewalks,” Jalali said. “Based on the language I’m reading, you would not be able to smoke cannabis legally virtually anywhere in the city unless you own and live in a single-family home as your own property.”
Other cities around the state including Duluth and Detroit Lakes have enacted bans on marijuana smoking in some city-controlled spaces.
City Council members will consider community input on the proposed ordinance Wednesday afternoon. Most of the comments already submitted electronically to the council were critical of the proposal.
One resident said the proposal would “keep cannabis illegal for people that can’t afford private property.”
“Since [Aug. 1] I have been regularly smoking cannabis while I walk my dog and it has been amazing,” they said. “I haven’t received any complaints or dirty looks from my fellow residents.”
Another city resident asked the council to ban marijuana use in parks and other spaces, saying St. Paul residents “should be able to enjoy public spaces without being subjected to the stench of cannabis.”
The Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) submitted an email supporting the measure.
“The city of St. Paul has an opportunity to help to shape healthy community norms, and an opportunity to ensure that those community members that use outdoor spaces such as public parks are able to do so safely,” said the MMA’s William Nicholson. “I urge the city of St. Paul to acknowledge the negative long-term health effects of allowing smoking or vaping in its public spaces and adopt an ordinance to protect the residents of this community.”
The state of Minnesota legalized personal marijuana use and possession of some amounts of marijuana on Aug. 1, but the rollout of the state licensing system isn’t expected until next year. The state legislation allows cities to enact temporary moratoriums on marijuana sales until January 2025.
Editor’s note: (Sept. 6, 2023): MPR News agreed to remove the names of two St. Paul residents quoted in an earlier version of this story after they expressed concerns that their comments about marijuana use could hurt them.
Correction (Sept. 6, 2023): Minnesota legislation allows cities to enact temporary moratoriums on marijuana sales until January 2025. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the law as allowing temporary moratoriums on marijuana use.