New interest is sparking with state lawmakers across the country, taking a hard look at their current state laws about marijuana.
Emmett Reistroffer is the board chairman of South Dakota Families
First. He says his group's mission is to minimize the impact of incarceration on families.
"I do support the government regulating the market, intervening, and allowing the legislators to be the stakeholders in this not the criminals on the street," Reistroffer said. "I believe the collateral consequences of being criminalized for using marijuana far out weigh the risks and harms associated with marijuana."
That argument is being heard by some legislators at South Dakota's state capital. Currently two bills have been filed relating to the topic of marijuana.
Senate Bill 221 is an act to revise certain penalties relating to the possession of marijuana. If adopted it would change possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or less from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 2 misdemeanor. The bill would scale back the maximum penalty from up to 1 year in jail to up to 1 month in jail. Supporters say it would allow police to focus more on dangerous criminal offenders.
"It would allow the police officer discovering the offense the discretion whether or not to arrest that person," Reistroffer said.
House Bill 1227 would make medical necessity a defense for people caught in possession of two ounces of marijuana or less. Defendants would be able to present a defense, explain what they were being treated for and a judge or a jury would decide if that defendant has a medical necessity. This bill would not legalize medical marijuana.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said he's against both of these bills. "The dangers of marijuana whether medical or recreational, it's a
gateway drug to more dangerous drugs, strong addiction, a lot of
violence, and a lot of law enforcement problems come with medical and
recreational use of marijuana," Jackley said.
Attorney General Jackley said South Dakota voters have already said no twice to legalizing medical marijuana in the state, once in 2006 and
again in 2010. He says states are having trouble trying to control the use of medical marijuana where it is legal.
Right now Senate Bill 70 the Criminal Justice Initiative is being discussed at the capitol. Although, marijuana laws were discussed when Senate Bill 70 was coming together they were eventually left out of the initiative all together.
Attorney General Jackley said marijuana laws weren't included in the initiative simply because he feels our current laws are working. "It doesn't make sense as we are looking to restructure our criminal justice system to open those flood gates," Jackley said.
The Attorney General says right now there are only 11 men and two women at the state penitentiary for distribution of marijuana, and another eight men are in the penitentiary for possession, a total of 21 inmates. But opponents say marijuana laws are still costing the state money, and landing people behind bars.
"Just going off the number of cases and overall costs for enforcement and the judicial system we believe it's upward of $25 million dollars a year we could save and that's not counting revenue which could be tens of millions of dollars more," Reistroffer said.
As Washington and Colorado look to fully implement their newly adopted laws of legalized recreational marijuana, supporters say they will see big financial gains from taxing marijuana. Financial experts in Washington say nearly $2 billion dollars in tax revenue could be brought in over the next 5 years. One Colorado think tank said their measure could bring in $60 million a year to start. That kind of money is something marijuana regulation supporters want to see brought to South Dakota.
"The government has full control, knows where it's grown, where it's sold, it's taxed, revenue is brought in, and used for proactive measures against drug abuse, education, and awareness." Reistroffer said.
Attorney General Jackley countered the price society would pay is too high.
"It's a gateway drug. It seems to be a drug that leads to more dangerous drugs like meth. There are often times when there's violence tied to marijuana especially the trade of marijuana," Jackley said.
Both sides would agree marijuana laws are at least a topic of conversation at the state capital. Supporters of new marijuana legislation hope those conversations lead to change while others hope South Dakota laws on marijuana stay the same.
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