St. Paul City Council extends public comment on marijuana smoking ordinance

A person lights a marijuana joint
Brittany Weichel blocks the wind while Tara Eck lights a joint during a celebration at First Avenue in Minneapolis marking the legalization of recreational marijuana on Aug. 1.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

The St. Paul City Council voted Wednesday to extend the public comment period on a proposal that would restrict marijuana and tobacco smoking on city property.

The original proposal would have made it a petty misdemeanor to smoke cannabis or tobacco products on city-controlled property, including parks and sidewalks.

But council members signaled a willingness during Wednesday’s meeting to adjust the proposal, including amendments to allow smoking on most sidewalks and reduce fines for violations. 

Council members heard comments at the meeting from dozens of St. Paul residents who lined up for and against the smoking restrictions.

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The bill’s author Council Member Chris Tolbert said he’s hoping to gather his colleagues’ input and amend the proposal before the continued public meeting next week. 

“This is balancing everybody’s enjoyment of clean air with people’s want to use certain substances — and they’re legal and I have been a supporter of the cannabis legislation,” Tolbert said. 

He said the proposal wouldn’t affect people taking gummies, edibles or drinks containing THC. 

Council Member Mitra Jalali said the council needs to avoid creating unintended consequences by not considering the nuance involved with the issue. 

“This is part of what living in a society is, not stigmatizing further, doing things the right way, showing that we can share space and that we don’t infringe on others, and that we don’t undermine one of the most important pieces of racial justice legislation that our state has ever passed,” Jalali said.  

Damone Presley, who runs the community group Vision in Living Life — Change is Possible in St. Paul, said he supports the restrictions on smoking in city parks. 

“My kids need and deserve to have a safe and healthy space in the city where they enjoy being kids,” Presley said. “So while some people are trying to find places for adults to smoke, I’m trying to find safe spaces where our kids can have fun.”

The board of the Hamline Midway Community Coalition said in a written public statement that they oppose the ordinance.

“We are not opposed to an ordinance that shapes what public cannabis use in our city looks like, but we believe this iteration is too restrictive and comes with negative accessibility and equity implications," the statement said.

State Rep. Athena Hollins, who worked on the state legislation, said the proposed ordinance is “decidedly inequitable” and would undermine the intent of the state’s cannabis legalization. 

“By further restricting where people can use cannabis, the city council will have effectively rendered the cannabis legalization meaningless,” Hollins said. “It will only be useful for those privileged enough to own their own home or have a backyard.” 

The council voted unanimously to continue the public debate on an amended version of the proposal next week. 

The state Legislature voted to legalize personal marijuana use starting on Aug. 1, but the state regulatory system is still being rolled out.