South Dakota activist groups are organizing efforts to legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana.
This effort doesn’t come without opposition.
Governor Dennis Daugaard has said multiple times he won’t back any initiatives legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana.
While legalization is an ideal goal, a more realistic one is decriminalization.
South Dakota has some of the harshest punishments for possession of the substance in the country, resulting in high law enforcement costs.
With such strict laws in existence, activists need to walk before they can run. Decriminalization is a more practical starting point.
South Dakota has been dubbed the third “worst state for stoners” by Complex magazine. It’s a class one misdemeanor to possess two ounces or less, which means people convicted have the possible punishment of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
South Dakota is also the only state with an “internal possession” law. This means ingesting any substance except alcohol for the purpose of becoming intoxicated is a class one misdemeanor. Even if the substance was ingested in a state where it’s legal, it’s still a crime in South Dakota.
The Argus Leader recently reported that law enforcement has been forcing catheterization as a means to collect urine samples for drug tests.
Not only is this inappropriate, but if law enforcement is going to such lengths to get someone in trouble for something so harmless, there’s a problem.
If the drug isn’t as harmful as other substances, why is the state wasting money on criminal justice costs? There are so many more serious offenses than possession of marijuana.
In 2015, the Argus Leader reported that South Dakota would save about $7.3 million over 10 years of a decriminalization measure, and would mean almost 3,200 fewer convictions for possession and ingestion of marijuana.
Decriminalizing isn’t going to make anyone who’s not already using suddenly start. So why not give citizens that use the drug for recreational use a break — they aren’t harming anyone.