From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Marijuana advocates light up and rally for legalization at Capitol

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: April 20, 2015 - 6:34 PM

Cheers and a cloud of marijuana smoke floated up from the steps of the Minnesota Capitol Monday as hundreds of activists rallied for legalization.

For the past four decades, activists have gathered on April 20th to light up in a show of civil disobedience they hope will draw attention and support. This year’s “Yes We Cannabis” rally, sponsored by Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, drew everyone from patients who use the drug medically to recreational users who want to be able to partake without fear of a drug bust.

“Can we legalize it?” Minnesota NORML executive director Marcus Harcus called out as the crowd huddled together against the cold, passing joints among themselves. 

“Yes we cannabis!” the crowd called back.

The rally comes just three months before medical marijuana is legalized in this state. But 4/20 rally participants say they’ll keep pushing until lawmakers legalize recreational use as well. Almost half the states have legalized medical cannabis, but recreational marijuana is legal in only four -- Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Before the outdoor demonstration, supporters crowded into Christ Lutheran Church at the Capitol to share stories about their experience with the drug -- and with drug laws.

Teresa Morrill of Apple Valley talked about losing her car to the state’s forfeiture laws after her her college-aged son was busted while driving it with a knapsack of marijuana in the trunk. Leroy Duncan talked about opening his front door to find guns pointed at him and his young neice, held by officers looking for his brother.

“I laid there, while they searched my house, because my brother sold a few dime bags,” Duncan said. “This is not how any human being deserves to be treated.”

Angela Brown, the Minnesota mom who narrowly avoided going to trial this week for giving her sick son cannabis oil, told the audience the drug “was a miracle for our son.” Trey Brown, now 15, sat in the crowd.

T.J. Nelson of Brainerd, who smokes marijuana to treat his Crohn’s disease, came to the rally with his fiance and young children. 

“I’m here today to tell everyone we have to break the silence,” he said. “There’s tens of thousands of Minnesotans who use cannabis every day, but they won’t talk about it. They’re scared for their jobs, they’re scared of losing their kids, they’re scared of repercussions in their community. In Greater Minnesota, these are real repercussions.”

Capitol Police kept an eye on the show of civil disobedience via security cameras, but made no move to interfere. Minnesota decriminalized possession of small quantities of marijuana in 1976 — it's a petty misdemeanor if you're caught with less than an ounce and a half of the drug. 

“They have every right to be here,” a Capitol Police spokesman said. “It seemed like everyone behaved themselves.”

State official: Collapsed waterpark roof was never inspected

Posted by: Matt McKinney Updated: April 17, 2015 - 3:49 PM

The waterpark roof that collapsed late Tuesday night in Ottertail, shuttering the Thumper Pond Resort and leading to the evacuation of 25 to 30 resort guests, was never inspected by state, county or city building code officials, a state official confirmed.

Such inspections are not required in Otter Tail County, one of 65 counties statewide that opted out of inspections. Even in such counties, however, builders are responsible for following the state building code, said Scott McLellan, director of construction codes and licensing at the state Department of Labor and Industry. Forensic engineers combed through roof wreckage on Thursday and Friday, but have not yet stated what caused the roof collapse. No one was injured in the collapse, which occurred at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday.

The 12,000 sq. ft. Northern Hideaway waterpark opened in 2006.

Photo: Thumper Pond Waterpark after April 14, 2015, roof collapse. Photo Credit: Thumper Pond

North Branch delays censure vote against mayor, council member

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: April 15, 2015 - 4:55 PM

North Branch residents crowded into city council chambers Tuesday night to debate -- and ultimately delay -- a censure resolution against their mayor and one of their council members.

Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy and Council Member Kathleen Blomquist are facing a resolution that would censure them and strip them of their committee assignment, after they testified before the Minnesota Senate against legislation the rest of the council supports.

After a contentious public comment period -- and news that both the mayor and council member have retained legal council -- the council voted to delay action on the censure motion until their next meeting. The extra time would give the city attorney time to review the issue, said City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad.

"We heard quite a lengthy amount of public comment last night, on both sides of the issue," Konrad said.

At issue is the question of whether North Branch's three-member Water and Light utility board should expand to five members. Three members of the five-member City Council support the expansion. Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist do not, and traveled to St. Paul last month to testify against legislation that would have allowed the city to add more seats to the board.

The censure resolution, introduced by Council Member Joyce Borchardt, calls the testimony "improper," since they represented themselves as mayor and council member, rather than as public citizens, and did not mention that the legislation had majority support. The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted the bill down after their testimony.

Video of Tuesday night's hearing is online here. The next meeting of the North Branch City Council will be May 12.

'Entire roof' collapses at Ottertail, Minn. water park; no one injured

Posted by: Matt McKinney Updated: April 15, 2015 - 4:25 PM

It's not yet known why a massive wooden roof collapsed overnight at a waterpark in Ottertail, Minn., authorities said. No injuries were reported, but some 25 to 30 people staying at the Thumper Pond Resort evacuated the facility, which was then shut down for the day. 

Someone reported hearing something that sounded like an explosion around midnight when the roof collapsed, but investigators with the Ottertail County Sheriff's Office said they found no evidence of an explosion, and attributed the sound to a support beam snapping.

The roof is less than eight years old, according to Thumper Pond general manager Brad Stevens. 

"It's very fortunate that no one was hurt," said Lt. Barry Fitzgibbons of the Ottertail County Sheriff's Office. He said the cause was not criminal, but engineers were examining the fallen roof Wednesday to determine exactly what happened. 

The resort, located 34 miles from Fergus Falls, advertised an 18-hole golf course, hotel and waterpark with a three-story tower and two slides.   

Photo: Thumper Pond Waterpark in 2009. Photo credit Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune.


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