Law enforcement leaders raise concerns over legal cannabis in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — As the legalization of cannabis is likely to become a reality in Minnesota, law enforcement leaders are raising concerns if there aren’t measures in place to help implement the law properly.

UPDATE: Minnesota Legislature reaches deal on legalized recreational cannabis, vote likely in final days of session

Law enforcement and legal experts said a big concern is how to be able to determine if someone is actively under the influence behind the wheel.

Unlike drinking and driving where a breathalyzer test can help determine whether someone is actively under the influence, there currently isn’t an approved test in the United States to do the same for marijuana or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. 

READ MORE: What’s all rolled up into the final Minnesota recreational marijuana bill?

WCCO legal contributor Joe Tamburino notes it also would not be illegal for someone to have it in their system and drive so long as they’re not actively under the influence. 

He points to the fact that THC can remain in someone’s system for 30-45 days, so while a urine or blood test can help determine if it is in someone’s system, it can’t necessarily determine how long ago they consumed it.

Tamburino also said this gray area could lead to an uptick in court cases and more taxpayer dollars needed for more legal resources.

“People will be ticketed for this,” he said. “They’ll be arrested perhaps and then when they get to court of course they will contest it because there’s a huge gray area. You will have a number of cases come in that will be litigated so you’re going to need to increase public defenders, prosecutors, judges, absolutely across the board.”

Also, unlike drunken driving where someone can be arrested if their blood-alcohol content registers above the .08 legal limit, there currently isn’t a legal threshold set for cannabis.

Law enforcement leaders raise concerns over legal cannabis in Minnesota


The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association have been very vocal about their concerns as the bill moves through the legislature. 

They’ve long argued that legalization without proper implementation could lead to an increase in emergency room visits, a significant impact on youth and long-term mental health issues.

They also said it could also lead to a rise in deadly crashes if proper regulations aren’t in place. 

They point to states where cannabis is legal, including Colorado. WCCO has followed the impact on law enforcement in that state closely. 

There are drug recognition officers who are trained to recognized the signs, but there are few in Minnesota. While there’s a months-long training program available, James Stuart, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association said, that takes time and money.

“We know we are in a recruitment pinch like never before,” he said. “We’re going to have to take law enforcement off the streets for weeks on end per officer to attend this training in order to maintain basic public safety levels on our streets like we have now.”

The bill currently establishes a pilot program for a DWI test for cannabis, but it remains to be seen whether it will make it into the final version signed into law. 

Stuart said they’ve encouraged lawmakers to pump the breaks on the bill so more research can be done on how to properly implement the legalization of cannabis.

Monday, a republican lawmaker tried but failed to adopt an amendment that would delay the penalty changes, primarily in relation to setting up a regulatory framework for legal businesses.