Minnesota agencies discuss traffic safety ahead of cannabis legalization

(ABC 6 News) – Agencies from the Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources held a news conference on Tuesday to discuss traffic safety ahead of the state’s legalization of cannabis.

Starting Aug. 1, Minnesotans can legally possess and use cannabis and cannabis products.

Officials discussed what drivers and riders need to know about drugged driving, cannabis use while driving a motor vehicle or operating a recreational vehicle, and traffic safety, enforcement and education on the road, trails and water.

Speakers included Minnesota DPS Commissioner, Bob Jacobson, Chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, Col. Matt Langer, Office of Traffic Safety Director, Mike Hanson, and Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division Director, Col. Rodmen Smith.

Alcohol, drugs and even prescription medication can hinder a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle, or operate a recreational vehicle or boat safely.

“Impaired is impaired on the road, regardless of the substance, and the effects can be tragic for everyone else on the road,” said Col. Langer. “Our focus is on impaired driving, regardless of substance, and keeping Minnesotans safe by enforcing the law. Just like with alcohol, anyone opting to consume cannabis needs to make the right choice by planning a safe and sober ride.”

That also remains true for those enjoying boating and other recreational activities.

“Minnesota’s trails and waterways have never been busier, with people out enjoying Minnesota’s natural resources,” said Col. Smith. “There’s no excuse for operating a recreational vehicle or watercraft while impaired. Conservation officers will not give a second chance to anyone who operates while impaired and willfully puts everyone else on the trail or on the water at risk.”

Operating a boat, off-highway vehicle (OHV) or snowmobile under the influence is one of the main factors in fatal crashes in Minnesota. Each year, about half of all fatal incidents involving boats, OHVs and snowmobiles involve impairment.

The penalties associated with operating a motor vehicle under the influence apply the same to operating a boat, OHV or snowmobile under the influence. People convicted of operating any of them under the influence lose their privilege to operate all of them.

According to the Minnesota DPS, drugged driving-related driving while impaired (DWI) incidents on the road are increasing in the state. Drugged driving accounted for 6,941 DWI incidents from 2012-2016 compared with 15,747 from 2017-2021 — that’s a 127% increase.

Just like how drinking alcohol in a vehicle is illegal, it’s illegal under the new cannabis law for:

  • Drivers or passengers to open any cannabis packaging, use marijuana or consume other cannabis products.
  • Drivers or passengers to have an unsealed container of marijuana (for example, 2 ounces in a zip-close bag). Similar to alcohol, the exception is an unsealed container or other opened products may be kept in the trunk of a car or another area not accessible by the driver or passengers.
  • The driver to be impaired by marijuana or other cannabis products. Driving high is a DWI.

The news conference was at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in downtown St. Paul. Watch it below.

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