Vergas an example of adopting the same for cities

By Robert Williams


The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the Cannabis Public Use Ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Public Health Director Jody Lien discussed the Health and Wellness committee’s discussions in creating an Aug. 8 draft ordinance and an Aug. 27 updated draft after contacting cities and municipalities around the county

The state legislation allows for a petty misdemeanor for public use and the ordinance prohibits the public use of cannabis and further defines a public place to be stringent to protect the public from exposure to smoke, aerosol or vapor within the county, according to Lien.

A “public place” means a public park or trail, public street or sidewalk, any enclosed indoor area used by the general public, including, but not limited to, theaters, restaurants, bars, food establishments, places licensed to sell intoxicating liquor, wine, or malt beverages, retail businesses, gyms, common areas in buildings, public shopping areas, auditoriums, arenas, or other places of public accommodation. For purposes of this ordinance, “public place” also includes designated outdoor areas where establishments may allow smoking and vape use.

Vergas was cited as an example if a city is going to adopt their own ordinance, both County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons and County Attorney Michelle Eldien encouraged towns to adopt the county ordinance as law enforcement will be enforcing the county ordinance not differing city ordinances.

It is more applicable to Vergas as the village has no city-based law enforcement officers.

“It’s consistent with Commissioner Mortenson’s statement as far as county-wide enforcement; it will certainly be easier to enforce,” said Sheriff Fitzgibbons. “What I’ve been hearing from people within the county is if people want to use it, fine, but it’s the public areas that they’re concerned with.”

“Should cities choose to do their own and many have talked about doing that and that’s fine, we just wanted to clarify with them that means we enforce county ordinances. Let’s take Vergas, for example, they don’t have their own law enforcement – to keep that in mind,” said Eldien.

“If Vergas were to adopt their own city ordinance, that’s not something the sheriff’s office will enforce, so it’s encouraged if that’s the route they want to go to adopt the county ordinance,” Fitzgibbons said.

Vergas adopted the county’s ordinance at the city council meeting later Tuesday evening.

The ordinance basically restricts use to a private residence or a licensed 

Jurisdictions in the county were in favor of prohibiting public use and in cases of Fergus Falls, the largest city in the county, they have adopted a more restrictive ordinance.

“We’re in support of what the county is doing here,” City Administrator Andrew Bremseth said. “We do have our own ordinance that we’ve already approved that becomes effective Sept. 24, which may be more restrictive in Fergus Falls because we went as far as edibles and products you can buy today, not just marijuana and flower. Ours is very restrictive in allowing this in public places, so I don’t see any issue with what the county is doing and of course, our local law enforcement will be tasked with enforcing our ordinance. We’ve heard nothing but sentiment that people don’t want to encounter this in public; they want this to be the case. Enjoy it on your private property, but they don’t have the expectation that they will run into this out in the public in Fergus Falls and Otter Tail County.”

The county attorney noted the ordinances are very similar.

“Succinctly, we are the same,” said Eldien.

A violation of the county ordinance will be a petty misdemeanor subject to a fine up to $300. Nothing in the ordinance prohibits the county from seeking prosecution for an alleged violation.

The county will have a public hearing on the ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 10:30 a.m., at the Government Services building.