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Police chiefs voice concerns over legalization of marijuana in Minnesota

Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law last May and it goes into effect on Aug. 1 with some limits.

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. — Minnesota law enforcement is preparing for a big spike in stopping people who are driving high.

There's even a one-year pilot program for a saliva testing to catch people in the act.

Still though, some law enforcement leaders want to pump the brakes on legal weed and say they're most concerned about the time between when cannabis becomes legal and when people can buy it from a licensed business.

Recreational marijuana for people 21 and older will be legal on Tuesday, Aug. 1. But it could be 2025 before you can buy it from a licensed business.

"I think there will definitely be some bumps in the road, but law enforcement is going to be there to do the best they with the tools that they have," said Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association's Jeff Potts.

Potts is the group's executive director with nearly 30 years in law enforcement. He expects an increase in traffic deaths. Citing data from Colorado, the National Institutes of Health shows that since cannabis was legalized there in 2000, traffic deaths where drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 138%. 

Potts says enforcement is tough, especially because Minnesota doesn't have enough drug recognition evaluators or DREs. They can measure everything from blood pressure to body temperature.

"I think it makes it very difficult from a prosecution standpoint because the DREs bring so much expertise to the table," said Potts. "Those evaluations carry a lot of weight when it comes to the prosecution of those cases."

Potts says that the state has about 300-350 of these highly-trained officers, but they need four times that. The legislature just approved $10 million for more training, that includes 80 hours for each officer. 

"That's a significant amount of time away while you're already probably understaffed," said Potts. 

He's also worried about a surge in violence with an uptick in customers come next week. He says they will have to decide between their loyalty to a dealer or the new, regulated market. 

"What's the cost going to be, is it going to be more expensive," asked Potts. "I think all of the issues with the illicit market will largely fall on law enforcement to try and deal with."

Potts had hoped lawmakers would have aligned when that market comes online with the day cannabis is legal to give public safety officials more time to prepare, especially since a reliable saliva test may not even be available for another two years.

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