The fastest growing city in Minnesota, and one of the fastest growing suburban communities in America, has banned the use of smokeable marijuana in its public spaces. And they’re doing it for the kids, according to city leaders.
The Lakeville City Council voted this week to create a new ordinance that prohibits the smoking of cannabis and hemp in public places — including parks, streets, sidewalks and other outdoor spaces where people can gather. Violation of the new ordinance, which takes effect immediately, is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by a $300 ticket, according to a city report on the measure.
It’s estimated that more than 74,000 people now call the south metro community home, a 14-percent increase in population over the last half decade. Many of those are young families, said City Council member John Bermel, who supported the ordinance which passed on a 3-2 vote on Monday, Aug. 7.
The council also passed a measure to ban all forms of smoking and vaping in its public parks, violation of which also constitutes a petty misdemeanor. The new ordinances do not prohibit consumption of cannabis-derived edibles in public, as the focus was on the impact the smell of marijuana smoke has on people’s enjoyment of public spaces, Bermel said, especially children.
“The thing about Lakeville at the stage we are in, with the type of demographics we have, children are ubiquitous — they’re everywhere,” Bermel said. “And for me, as I am thinking of a family and you are bringing your family some place and not to have to smell the marijuana, I can certainly support that for our community.”
Walz shrugs when asked to react to cities banning smoking cannabis in public
Gov. Tim Walz was asked this week by media his opinion of cities like Lakeville and a host of others that are in the process of prohibiting smoking marijuana in public.
“You have (bill) authors who understood, and we understood, like we do with so many things that there would be individual local jurisdictions that would make decisions on this,” Walz said at a press conference in Coon Rapids on Tuesday. “Adults will be able to use as they use, whether they are sitting at their table or backyard or wherever they may be. But just like you can’t walk around with an open container on the streets in places, you wouldn’t be able to do the same thing (in some cities).”
The two Lakeville City Council members who voted against the smokeable cannabis ban in public spaces, including Michelle Volk, told their colleagues they felt the new restrictions seem to be “anticipating a problem before it’s actually a problem.”
“I find (this ordinance) to be a little restrictive,” Volk said. “I’d like to take this more in baby steps, only because it seems like every time we turn around there is something different, and changed (with interpretation of the new legalization laws).”
City Council member Josh Lee, who also voted against the ordinance, said he thought a better solution to curbing the use of smokeable cannabis in popular business districts and heavily traveled sidewalks would be to amend the city’s already existing public nuisance ordinance.
“There’s a balancing act that comes between (respecting) personal freedoms and what are we trying to prevent for the sake of the community,” Lee said. “But I’m not convinced there’s going to be an issue at this point.”
The city also approved a new ordinance the same night, by a 4-1 vote, to ban all forms of smoking or vaping in public parks. Volk was the lone ‘no’ vote on that measure. She claimed that those who smoke cigarettes in their vehicle in parking lots of public parks will be unfairly punished.
But Lakeville Mayor Luke Hellier said he didn’t want to see parking lots become a place of refuge for people who smoke marijuana.
“I too struggled with that, prohibiting smoking inside your motor vehicle in our parks,” Hellier said. “But if you are inside your car, but the windows are down, it’s like where do you draw the line?”
Legislative process for legalization laws was ‘clumsy,’ council member says
Lakeville is one of the first cities to ban smoking of cannabis in outdoor public places, but it’s not alone.
The cities of Alexandria, Duluth, St. Cloud, West St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights, Detroit Lakes and others are considering similar ordinances.
Late last month, in anticipation of the Aug. 1 recreational cannabis legalization enactment, the Apple Valley City Council voted to pass a similar ordinance to that of Lakeville. Others are sure to follow, said Lakeville City Council member Dan Wolter, because of the way the new recreational cannabis law was developed and rolled out in the legislature.
“I think it’s important to note we are not relitigating the decisions at the legislature to legalize recreational marijuana,” Wolter said during the Aug. 7 discussion over the ordinance. “We are dealing with the cards and the hand we were dealt.”
Lakeville City Council member Dan Wolter said the recreational marijuana legislation put together by DFL bill sponsors "is clumsy" and was "done in a non-transparent way." Wolter voted this week to support a new ordinance in Lakeville that bans people from smoking cannabis or… pic.twitter.com/hb5tma6ZUg
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) August 10, 2023
“Having said that, I think the state law is clumsy; I think it was done in a non-transparent way, and I think it changes every day and every week in terms of what people think we can and can’t do. You get different stories from different authors of the various bills and so I am not pleased with that.”
“I think the slice of local control that was given in this bill gives us the prerogative to do this … I think this is absolutely a step we have to take for the character of this community.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.