Sheriffs statewide ramp up warnings over legalizing pot

Sheriffs across the state have gone on the offensive over the ramifications for public safety of DFL-sponsored legislation to legalize marijuana in Minnesota. The top law enforcement officers in several counties have launched a public relations campaign to highlight the potential dangers associated with legalized pot in other states through letters on social media and publications like the Marshall Independent.

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.

The Minnesota Sheriff’s Association and Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association jointly made their concerns over the legislation clear from the start of the legislative session.

On behalf of more than 300 police chiefs and 87 county sheriffs, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) and the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association (MSA) are deeply concerned about several aspects of House File 100 as they erode public safety in our state and strongly oppose the bill as it is currently written.

Now in what appears to be a coordinated effort, sheriffs are speaking out individually in their counties against the bills legalizing marijuana for adults in both legislative houses. Beltrami County Sheriff Jason Riggs’ letter appeared in the Bemidji Pioneer.

These bills have been moving through the legislature at a rapid pace, and I am concerned that state lawmakers may not address some key public safety issues that would arise if cannabis is legalized this session. 

Currently, law enforcement lacks an instant, on-site test for cannabis intoxication, similar to a breathalyzer. We also lack a standard to determine if a driver is unfit to be behind the wheel, such as the .08 BAC standard used for alcohol intoxication.

While the current bills contain provisions for developing a test, they won’t be ready until long after commercial cannabis hits the market. In the interim, how are law enforcement officers expected to keep our roads safe from intoxicated drivers? 

This is especially important considering that in states with legalized cannabis, the number of traffic deaths involving drivers who test positive for cannabis has increased.

There may be no stopping the DFL-controlled legislature from legalizing pot, but there’s also no slowing down sheriffs statewide from taking aim at what many view as a potential public safety nightmare for both officers and constituents.

“For me, putting it out was a means to draw attention to it,” [Lincoln County Sheriff Chad] 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.