At the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission meeting in November 2023, Parks and Recreation Director Andy Rodriguez provided commission members a copy of the city’s rules about alcohol use in parks. He then expanded the conversation to whether cannabis should be allowed in city parks under any circumstances.
That prompted a number of questions from Parks and Rec commissioners, some of whom seemed to assume that cannabis or THC is ingested primarily through smoking:
- What if a stoned person breaks an arm at the skate park?
- How would we minimize conflict?
- What if someone wants to host a cannabis fest?
- “Why not follow along with the alcohol policy?” one member asked. Because, said another, “smoking can affects others,” so perhaps an all-out “no smoking” rule would be appropriate.
“We’re gathering input [to see] if we want to make any changes or modifications to our rules and regulations to account for cannabis use,” Rodriguez said in an email after the meeting. “I don’t have a crystal ball or timeline but could see some more simple changes, such as allowing THC beverages, similar to how we allow alcohol in designated locations.”
A public hearing, he said, “would represent an opportunity for residents to advocate for or against its forms of use, similar to what took place at the City Council.” Last September, the previous St. Paul City Council voted 4-3 to ban smoking of tobacco, cannabis and electronic devices in public parks; only three of that group’s members have carried over to the current council, however, and two of them — current Council President and Ward 4 Councilmember Mitra Jalali and Ward 6 Councilmember Nelsie Yang — voted against the smoking ban.
- According to Minnesota Public Radio, the ordinance “does not prohibit the use of cannabis gummies, edibles or drinks containing THC.” And that is where Rodriguez and the Parks and Rec Commission may have some leeway.
After a cancelled Parks and Rec commission meeting (due to illness) in December, the Parks and Rec Commission scheduled a public hearing on Thursday, January 11, 2024, to take up the cannabis question. No one showed up to testify.
“What problem are we trying to solve?” asked one attendee at the meeting. “Different commissioners know of different parks where people have always smoked marijuana. The real issue is harder drugs.”
In addition, he added — echoing an argument that Ward 4’s Jalali has made — a ban on cannabis smoking “marginalizes people. If you live in a rental space where there’s no smoking of any kind, where do you do that?”
Although the possession and consumption of alcohol is generally prohibited in public parks, some types of alcohol may be consumed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in “designated areas of Cherokee Park, Como Park, Harriet Island Park, Raspberry Island, Upper Landing Park, City House, Highland Park, Phalen Park, and at Rice and Arlington, McMurray and Dunning ball fields,” according to a description that commission members received.
That may be the future for THC-laced beverages and cannabis gummies as well.
“Our department has been discussing whether or not we should consider any changes around cannabis and our existing rules,” said Rodriguez, the Parks and Rec director. He laid out the following as some potential next steps:
- Draft a resolution for a future Parks and Rec Commission meeting, which are held the second Thursday of every month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The issue is not on the agenda for the meeting on Thursday, February 8, at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center, 271 N. Mackubin St. in St. Paul.
- Recommend that THC beverages can be consumed “in designated locations where alcohol is already allowed.”
- Reiterate that any other type of cannabis use within park spaces would require written approval from the director.
Compliance would be voluntary, Rodriguez said, similar to other prohibited behaviors “like dogs off leash.” A citation, he added, “would be a rare occurrence.”
Note: Friends of the Parks and Trails supports a ban on all smoking in public parks, whether tobacco or marijuana, transmitted via cigarettes, cigars, pipes, joints, vape pens or other means. We urge our members who live in St. Paul to contact their City Council representative and Parks and Rec Commission members to voice their views.
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