ST. PAUL PARK - State Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is taking a leave of absence from his job as a Cottage Grove police officer to spend more time on legislative issues and to be a paid consultant for LeafLine Labs, the medical marijuana manufacturer that has opened in Cottage Grove.
The 40-year-old Schoen, a 14-year veteran of the police force, was a vocal advocate for the recent legalization of medical marijuana in Minnesota, but he said the consulting work he is doing for LeafLine Labs is not payback for his advocacy on that issue. He said he was approached to help LeafLine Labs locate a site in Cottage Grove for its manufacturing facility, but at the time it had not been chosen as one of the two state-approved manufacturers. That was handled by the Department of Health and Schoen said he had no involvement in that decision.
“I couldn’t have any input as to who got (selected),” he said. “All I know is I worked dang hard - there was a business that was looking for a place to land.”
Schoen said he is being paid by LeafLine Labs but is not on the employee payroll because he has a month-to-month contract. He is helping the company with security services, including setting up security cameras, discussing transportation (LeafLine Labs eventually will supply medical marijuana to four dispensaries around the state) and even instructing employees on certain office safety issues.
“I kind of feel like I stuck my neck out there for the legislation early on, and I don’t want to see bad things happen or people take advantage of something,” he said.
Schoen also said work on big legislative issues cannot only be done during the crush of a legislative session. It takes time to learn about issues such as health care and tax policy and even railroad safety, and to explain positions to stakeholders and the public, he said.
“You can’t do that during the legislative session,” said Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park. “During the session, that’s when you’re voting yes or no.”
Schoen said he was “thrust into” complex health care and tax issues in his first few years in the Minnesota House. It’s a steep learning curve, and he said his full-time job as a patrol officer when the Legislature is not in session sometimes has limited his ability to study issues and attend legislative-related meetings and conferences.
“Those are things I want to learn,” he said, explaining that a health care or tax issue elsewhere in the state may affect constituents in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park or South St. Paul. “I just have had to say so many times, ‘I’ve got to work.’”
“It’s not this mythical part-time thing,” Schoen said of serving in the Legislature. “The work doesn’t stop once we’re not voting yes or no on stuff, and now it’s time to learn.”
Since he was elected in 2012, Schoen has taken leaves of absence from his police job during each legislative session and returned to patrol duty when the session ended each spring.
Now, he’s on leave through the end of the year and then will continue the leave when lawmakers return to St. Paul in March for the 2016 legislative session. He is not being paid his police salary during his leave, he said.
Police Capt. Pete Koerner said the department will request input from the Cottage Grove City Council about whether to hire a new patrol officer as a result of Schoen’s leave. That discussion will happen later this month or in early August, Koerner said.
Schoen expects to return to police work and said he would not have taken a leave if he had other career plans.
Schoen said he also hopes to work on another issue during his leave: police-community relations. The relationship between the public and law enforcement is strained, he said. Schoen said he is frustrated by the perception some people have of police, but also said law enforcement needs to be involved in improving community relations. He said he would like to be able to take part in regional discussions on that issue.