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Park Rapids Council puts brakes on paraphernalia ban

The city council voted down the second reading of the proposed ordinance and chose, instead, to hold another public hearing after further review.

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Matt Winskowski, owner of Midwest Dabbin' Cabin in downtown Park Rapids, pleads with the city council not to approve the proposed drug paraphernalia ordinance on its second reading on Jan. 25.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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The Park Rapids City Council on Jan. 25 stayed the second reading of Ordinance 615, banning the possession, manufacture, delivery and advertisement of drug paraphernalia in the city.

The ordinance was pulled from the council’s consent agenda at the request of Matt Winskowski, owner of the Midwest Dabbin’ Cabin hybrid smoke and hemp shop in downtown Park Rapids.

Mayor Ryan Leckner opened the floor to comments about the ordinance, which Winskowski said “would kill us” as a business.

‘Cannabis is here to stay’

The council heard testimonies from both Matt and Maia Winskowski, as well as local resident John Ferguson, about how delta-8 cannabis products have helped them manage chronic pain and mental health diagnoses and to break their dependency on alcohol and opioids.

They explained that delta-8 products are among the hemp products with less than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that were legalized by the federal 2018 Farm Bill.

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Matt also shared written testimonials from several Midwest Dabbin’ Cabin customers who said delta-8 has helped them with a variety of conditions. The writers said losing local access to delta-8 products would create hardship for them, with the nearest state medical cannabis dispensary in St. Cloud and state-sanctioned products costing much more.

He said they only sell paraphernalia related to smoking products and delta-8 products, and have purposely avoided gear associated with harder drugs.

Holding up the shop’s legal and responsibly sourced products as an alternative to black market buys that may be tainted, Matt challenged stereotypes like “weed is the devil’s lettuce,” saying, “Cannabis is here to stay. It is medicine. It is progress.”

He asked the council not to approve the ordinance, urging them to see the good his shop does.

Maia also shared an email from their distributor, a representative of Smokes R Us, praising Matt and his staff for setting a high standard for service, and saying delta-8 products are supported by better documentation than the products sold at dispensaries.

Ferguson, who professed using only THC to manage his post-traumatic stress disorder during the past two years despite previous chemical dependency issues, said the shop helps people.

Based on the public health impact of alcohol, he said that if the city wants to make a change, it should get rid of its liquor store before going after THC, which is legal in 35 states.

Ferguson said the “bad rap” on THC is due to ignorance and urged the council to modify its ordinance language so that it doesn’t push the store’s customers out of the local market.

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‘We value our neighbors’

Police Chief Jeff Appel defended the ordinance, stressing that the ordinance addresses drug paraphernalia and its sale, not delta-8 products.

However, Matt reported that city police seized products that he was selling, including ones that he claimed are legal, and that he “felt personally attacked.” He said that of products below 0.3% THC, only cannabis gummies are currently banned by state law.

Angela Graham with CHI St. Joseph’s Health Community Health and the Hubbard in Prevention Coalition quoted the “purpose” section of the proposed ordinance, stressing the desire to protect public health and to avoid encouraging the use of controlled substances, especially by youth.

“An ordinance like this sends a clear message that we value our neighbors, neighborhoods, law enforcement, youth and our recovering community,” Graham said. “Youth who believe drug use is common and accepted in our community are more likely to use drugs.

“Drug paraphernalia is available in kid-friendly colors and are sometimes placed near items that appeal to youth, such as candy, toys and soda. Selling drug paraphernalia where youth have access sends the message that drug use is commonplace. Availability of drug paraphernalia increases the chance of relapse for community members struggling to overcome addiction.”

Matt countered that the drugs Graham spoke of are “the wrong drugs” and are “not THC.”

Council member Erika Randall also stressed that the ordinance is intended to control only drug paraphernalia, and she made a motion to approve the ordinance. Mayor Ryan Leckner called for a second and, hearing none, seconded the motion.

Changing consensus

Council member Liz Stone said she appreciated the Winskowskis’ concerns but was also concerned about the message the city is sending to its youth.

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Matt voiced willingness to work with the city to refine the ordinance, noting that the paraphernalia ban will impact his customers’ ability to use the shop’s legal delta-8 products. He also claimed law enforcement says they can’t sell those products.

Randall said that isn’t the issue in the ordinance, which is only about the paraphernalia. “That’s up to your attorney to take up with the county attorney,” she said. “If you believe that your product, that your delta-8 product, that you can sell those legally, that’s a different fight.”

“Yes, but if we do argue that and we are finally able to do it again, the paraphernalia law takes away from any device or anything that we had used for it,” said Matt.

Randall said that in that case, his customers would have to get their paraphernalia elsewhere. “The concern amongst the council … is that people do use paraphernalia for other drugs,” she said.

The Winsksowskis lamented that the ordinance’s “generalized” language captures gear used for good purposes, and stressed that they don’t sell products specifically designed for ingesting illegal drugs like methamphetamine. However, Randall pointed out that any kind of pipe can be used to smoke meth.

Stone asked whether the ordinance language could be made more specific, and council member Tom Conway suggested tabling the ordinance.

When Randall’s motion was brought to a vote, it failed 1-4 with only Leckner in favor.

Conway made a motion to stay the second reading until the council’s next meeting, but Randall advised that since the ordinance didn’t pass on its second reading, there needs to be another hearing about it. She also urged doing more research, discussing it with the county attorney and examining case law on the topic.

Conway amended his motion to call for another public hearing, and the motion passed unanimously.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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