By Rep. Paul Anderson
Several new laws took effect with the calendar turning to the month of August. That can happen several times a year, typically in January, or July, and many of those new laws don't have a huge impact on the lives of most Minnesotans. However, that's not the case this time as recreational marijuana use has now become legal in our state. The law was pushed through by the DFL majority, and it leaves many questions unanswered at the same time it takes effect.
To me, the biggest one looking for an answer is where it can be smoked. The law lists several areas where it will now be legal, but the caveat is that it cannot be done in the presence of minors. That's a grey area, which means it's up to local jurisdictions to pass ordinances prohibiting its use in public areas where young people may be. We already have rules in place saying where cigarettes cannot be smoked in public, and it would seem logical to ban the use of marijuana in those same areas.
With the exception of tribal ground, cannabis will not be available for sale over-the-counter in Minnesota for many months, probably well into the year 2025. With possession now being legal, that means the black market will flourish for the next year and a half, with no competition from legal shops set up to sell it. And when that does happen, the state will be imposing a 10-percent tax on each sale, in addition to the sales tax, which will add another layer of cost to the final cost. The sales tax rate in Greater Minnesota is currently 6.875 percent, but in the metro area it was increased this past session by the Legislature another full percentage point to help fund transit and housing. That probably means black market purchases will remain cheaper than those made legally, and that the legalization of cannabis will not make the black market go away.
Employers are now grappling with how to change their policy manuals in regard to cannabis use. Marijuana can stay in a person's system at detectable levels for weeks after using it. After that long a time, it may not be enough to impair one's ability to drive, for example, but it's still going to register on a drug test. So, how do we deal with that in terms of allowing some level of THC but not enough to cause impairment? And then add in the situation where drivers with CDL licenses have a zero tolerance, along with those who serve in public safety or transport children, and more decisions need to be made.
Although the legislation makes clear that marijuana consumption by minors will still be illegal, it takes away any punishment for its use. That leads many to believe that, in effect, we made it legal for those under the age of 19 to use it. There was a rush to decriminalize cannabis use for all minor offenses, but we also took away any penalty for young people who use it.
Minnesota now joins the list of states that have legalized recreational use. Other states who did this earlier, such as Colorado, served as the experiment on how to do this in the best way possible. One aspect of the Colorado law gave counties the ability to opt out of the legalization. Minnesota chose not to do this, but did give local governments the power to regulate where it could be used. That will take place over the upcoming months as cities enact their own rules to keep second-hand smoke away from those who don't want it.