Law enforcement officials in Western Wisconsin wait to see impact of legal marijuana in Minnesota

July 19, 2023
When enacted, the Minnesota law makes marijuana legal in all states bordering Wisconsin except Iowa

Jul. 18—ALMA, Wis. — Law enforcement officials in western Wisconsin are taking a wait-and-see approach to potential marijuana trafficking through the state as Minnesota is set to legalize the recreational use of the drug on Aug. 1.

When the new Minnesota law takes effect, adults aged 21 and up will be able to possess and transport up to 2 ounces of cannabis flower, up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and edible products with up to 800 milligrams of THC. Minnesota residents also are allowed to possess up to 2 pounds of pot at their homes.

When enacted, the Minnesota law makes marijuana legal in all states bordering Wisconsin except Iowa and marks the first time the western part of the state had legal marijuana nearby.

Possession, use or sale of marijuana remains illegal in Wisconsin.

'Nothing planned'

Buffalo County Sheriff Michael Osmond said the impact of Minnesota's legalization on his county is unknown.

"I trust that the folks over in Minnesota will know that it's illegal over here, and they'll just stay over and keep all the products over there," Osmond said. "There's certainly potential, but I'm just hoping for the best and that people know it's still illegal over here and we're going to enforce the law."

Buffalo County is one of the few Wisconsin counties on the Mississippi River with two bridges going into Minnesota. Osmond said the bridges are the two busiest points for traffic in the county.

"We're not going to do anything different than the last 17 years I've been here," Osmond said. "There's nothing planned at this point for any major checkpoints or any of that, but we will still be very present on the bridges as we have been."

After Minnesota legalized edibles containing small amounts of hemp-derived THC last year, Osmund said he didn't notice any significant impact in Buffalo County.

"If there's a big dispensary right across the bridge in Winona at the bottom of the bridge, one could say a lot of people from Wisconsin could travel over there and pick it up and bring it back," Osmond said. "We'll see what the impacts are as they come."

Border concerns

Since Michigan and Illinois legalized recreational marijuana, Chippewa County Sheriff Travis Hakes said his department has seen more instances of the drug in Wisconsin, especially near the borders.

"As legalization has encircled us and enclosed on us, it's become more apparent that it's here," Hakes said. "With me, having a law enforcement network of people, I've had conversations when Michigan legalized. I know they saw an increase in the northeast portion of the state. Same thing when Illinois passed legalization of it in the southern part of the state."

He said it's likely law enforcement agencies in the western part of the state will experience the same situation.

"I think we're going to see a repeat of what you've seen in the northeastern portion of the state," Hakes said. "It's already here in such a volume it's not uncommon for us to come across marijuana."

While marijuana remains illegal in Wisconsin, Hakes said offenders caught with small quantities of pot as a first offense are issued citations.

Hakes said any additional resources his department uses for drug enforcement would be directed toward limiting the proliferation of heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine — not marijuana.

"That's really where our big concern is. Those are the drugs that are ruining our children's lives, that are displacing kids into foster care, and that are killing our citizens," Hakes said. "But people have to be cognizant of marijuana, though. If it's legal in Minnesota, there are employers who still view it as illegal. Even if you went to Michigan for the weekend (you'd) have to take a drug test when you get home."

Black market

Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude said Wisconsin is going to feel the impact of Minnesota's legalization when people buy from dispensaries and travel across the border. He said on his side of the border, he's concerned about people driving while impaired after purchasing and using marijuana.

"If someone has a legal amount and they're transporting it legally in their vehicle, it's not a violation until they cross," Ganrude said. "If people are bringing marijuana into Wisconsin, is the driver under the influence? That's a concern, too."

Ganrude also said people bringing in large amounts of legally-purchased Minnesota weed in Wisconsin is concerning because it may be intended for further illegal sale.

"If the roles were reversed and Wisconsin legalized, we would just be talking to our guys about what to look out for and what interactions to have with the general public on traffic stops," Ganrude said.

There is a stream of illegal marijuana that runs through Winona County, Ganrude said.

"We're on two major roadways, we got Amtrak in town, and there's a lot of traffic between Chicago and the Twin Cities and it comes right through here," Ganrude said. "I guess we'll find out after August if people are growing their own or they're still importing their stuff."

La Crosse County Sheriff John Siegel declined to comment for this story until after Minnesota's legalization is in effect and there's data to draw conclusions on.

"The law is new, we do not know how it will or won't affect our deputies or communities or what enforcement may look like," Siegel said in a statement.

The Wisconsin State Patrol declined to answer questions about the potential impact of legal marijuana in Minnesota on interstate traffic in Wisconsin. The agency issued a statement reinforcing that marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin.

"Possession of marijuana remains illegal under Wisconsin law. It does not matter if the marijuana was obtained legally in another state," the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Office of Public Affairs said in a statement. "When officers with the Wisconsin State Patrol or other Wisconsin law enforcement agencies locate illegal substances such as marijuana, they will take appropriate enforcement action based on the circumstances."


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