State agencies committed to keeping people safe as cannabis becomes legal Aug. 1

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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Starting Aug. 1, Minnesotans can legally possess and use cannabis and cannabis products. What isn’t changing? It’s still illegal to operate a motor vehicle, boat, off-highway vehicle or snowmobile while impaired by cannabis. The Minnesota departments of Public Safety (DPS) and Natural Resources (DNR) want Minnesotans to learn the new law and plan a safe and sober ride if they’re cannabis consumers.

“Impaired is impaired on the road, regardless of the substance, and the effects can be tragic for everyone else on the road,” said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol. “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.

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“Minnesota’s trails and waterways have never been busier, with people out enjoying Minnesota’s natural resources,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director. “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.”

The right choice keeps people safe and avoids the dangers and penalties of a poor decision.

  • 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.

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

In cases involving driving under the influence of drugs, cannabinoids are one of the most prevalent drug classes indicated in the screening of blood and urine samples. They are often seen in conjunction with other controlled substances and alcohol.

Cannabis has measurable effects that can impair the ability to drive and react quickly in critical situations, including:

  • Difficulties in road tracking.
  • Lane-position variability.
  • Decreased, divided attention.
  • Impaired executive functions, including route planning, decision making and risk taking.

“Sadly, driving while impaired by drugs is nothing new in Minnesota,” DPS Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson said. “Changing behaviors and understanding the dangers of impairment require enforcement and education. Preventing tragedy is possible, and, ultimately, it comes down to taking personal responsibility for a safe and sober ride. Make that smart choice for yourself and your loved ones.”