Even though marijuana was recently legalized in two states, one of them no further than six hours from Rapid City (namely Colorado), South Dakota law enforcement are still committed to enforcing some of the most draconian drug policies in the region:
“We are going to subject them to South Dakota law. I don’t believe it will be a good defense that they came from Colorado or Washington,” [Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender] said recently.
Spearfish attorney Matthew Kinney said he expects that more people will be bringing marijuana to or through South Dakota since more than 54 percent of Colorado’s voters approved Amendment 64, which allows the possession of up to one ounce of pot for anyone 21 or older. It also allows for the sale of pot at retail stores.
“If they are going to go through I-90 to go to Minneapolis, they are not going to think about South Dakota law,” Kinney said of those who choose to travel through western South Dakota.
Marijuana trafficking likely won’t increase due to Colorado’s new law, Kinney said. However, pot smokers may think they are allowed to have the smaller amounts with them or that the chances of getting caught will be slim.
My colleague Emmett Reistroffer of South Dakota Families First responds eloquently to Kinney and Allender in the Rapid City Journal article quoted above. I will simply make a handful of factual observations:
- According to a 2009 study in the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, South Dakota has the third-stiffest penalties in the nation for possession of an ounce or less of pot.
- In 2007 there were 1,586 marijuana arrests in South Dakota.
- SD’s prison population has grown from just a few hundred inmates in the 1970s to more than 3,600 in 2012. Within a decade, that number is predicted to climb to more than 4,500 inmates.
- The jump in SD incarceration rates has been fueled by a 70 percent increase in the number of offenders admitted for drug offenses.
- Overall, in 2012, 81 percent of admissions to prison were for nonviolent crimes, primarily drug- and alcohol-related crimes.
The last three statistics come straight from the SD Criminal Justice Initiative, which released its report on SD’s over-incarceration crisis at the end of last month. Instead of pursuing a hard line against those with more enlightened drug policies in Colorado and elsewhere, maybe South Dakota should be looking to emulate them.