Law enforcement bracing for legalized marijuana

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(ABC 6 News) – On August 1st, Minnesota will become the 23rd state in the country to legalize the possession and use of marijuana. But, there are still a handful of questions and concerns about the change.

The state is still working to get the new Office of Cannabis Management up and running. The body will be responsible for regulating the use and sale of marijuana products sold by retailers in the state, among other duties. Without that regulatory framework, retail sales aren’t expected to begin until 2025, when the office is expected to be operational.

Meanwhile, cities are taking things into their own hands. The City of Rochester just passed an ordinance this week prohibiting any new cannabis businesses from operating until that year.

Come Tuesday, it will be legal to grow marijuana and to possess it.

It’s a move that has been long advocated for by a number of groups, and public opinion in Minnesota largely favors legalization, with a recent poll showing 64% of registered voters surveyed across the state support legalization.

Despite those numbers, law enforcement has remained a staunch opponent of legal marijuana.

“People can still get pulled over and still get arrested, depending on the amount of possession they have in their vehicle and how impaired they may be,” Olmsted County sheriff Kevin Torgerson said.

People 21 and older will be able to legally possess up to two ounces of marijuana come August 1st, but some longtime rules still apply. That includes driving while under the influence of marijuana.

Rochester police officers tell ABC 6 News they’re expecting to work to identify drivers under the influence, adding that they have tools at their disposal to recognize marijuana intoxication.

“They’ll run the driver through field sobriety tests, make a determination and then ask that DRE, the drug recognition expert officer, to come and assist,” Lieutenant Paul Gronholz said.

DREs use a 12-step process to determine if a person is impaired. It’s a specialized position with only five trained DREs on staff within the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s roughly the same number the Rochester Police Department has.

Sheriff Torgerson also has concerns, saying that he’s worried the tools law enforcement has won’t be enough to handle the number of people who may make the wrong decision to get behind the wheel.

“We’re forced to basically arrest somebody and take them in and go through the process and require to give a blood and urine test,” Sheriff Torgerson said.

Becoming a DRE requires training and certification, which can cost departments and counties both time and money to make sure those certifications are secured.