Lincoln Co. Sheriff posts letter calling for caution on marijuana legislation

LINCOLN COUNTY — This session, the Minnesota Legislature has been considering a pair of bills legalizing adult cannabis use in the state. It’s a decision that should take some serious thought, said Lincoln County Sheriff Chad Meester.

“It’s a tough situation, and there’s such a broad area to cover with it,” including public safety concerns, Meester said Monday.

It was serious enough that Meester took his concerns to social media over the weekend. On Saturday, Meester posted a letter on Facebook asking questions about enforcement and traffic safety should marijuana be legalized.

“Basically, what I’m trying to inform the public and my constituents, there needs to be in the legislature some serious, serious consideration of the pros and cons,” Meester said.

Bills legalizing adult cannabis use in Minnesota were introduced at the state legislature earlier this year. The bills have been moving through committees in both the State House of Representatives and Senate, but neither has been passed yet.

As currently written, the bills would do things like create an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the cannabis industry in Minnesota and approve consumer products; create rules for the amount of cannabinoids adults can possess or transport for personal use; and set licensing and other rules for cannabis businesses. The bills also include an “open package law” prohibiting the use of cannabis or hemp-derived products while driving.

Meester’s letter said there are still lots of questions to be answered, however. He asked how law enforcement will be expected to test for cannabis intoxication in drivers, as well as how legal cannabis would impact drug enforcement.

Meester’s letter used a traffic death statistic that was published in a 2021 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. The report said the number of all Colorado traffic deaths in crashes involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana went from 55 in 2013 to 131 in 2020. Of those 131 fatalities, 104 were drivers, 21 were passengers, four were pedestrians and two were bicyclists, the report said.

“There are some serious concerns,” Meester said. If cannabis becomes legal, there could be a potential for increased numbers of impaired people on the roads in Minnesota, or medical situations where someone has taken too much of the drug. There would also be the question of how officers are supposed to determine if someone is impaired, he said.

“We would need training, we would need resources to deal with that,” Meester said.

Meester’s letter called for law enforcement agencies to receive “adequate funding” and plans to fund projects like developing a roadside test, drug expert training, and other public health and safety costs.

“For me, putting it out was a means to draw attention to it,” Meester said of the issue. He said he also planned on sharing his concerns with legislators like state Sen. Bill Weber.

Meester said he had heard arguments both for and against legalizing cannabis, but there needed to be more information.

“For me, I would like to know how the experts weigh in on it,” he said.


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